An illustration of indigenous writing overlaid on map of the Great Lakes

Mapping the connections among indigenous people

Margaret Noodin’s digital map project aims to provide a visual guide to the many Native American nations that are part of the Anishinaabe Confederacy. It has the potential to connect the indigenous peoples beyond a shared tie to an endangered language.

Noodin’s research focuses on more than 160 Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi nations. Linked by the Anishinaabemowin language, these communities mainly are located around the western Great Lakes.

Margaret Noodin

A professor of English in the College of Letters & Science and director of the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education, Noodin writes Anishinaabemowin poetry and teaches the language at UWM. One of the institute’s goals is to keep all of Wisconsin’s indigenous languages alive by developing teachers who can help address shortages in tribal communities.

The map, to be released in spring 2020, denotes tribal office locations in indigenous communities in the United States and Canada. “By constructing this map,” Noodin says, “we get a visualization of how this diaspora is really quite vast.”

The map displays community names in both the Anishinaabe language and its English translation. The Anishinaabe name tends to provide a sense of a community’s landscape or a story about its people – deepening connections to indigenous heritage.

Noodin, along with her staff and students, conducted phone interviews or traveled to tribal communities to get oral histories and verify information. They researched records dating to the 1700s, with the goal of adding future map layers to show the history and migration of tribes.

The map also allows users to search for communities by watershed or coastline. Noodin, who is a Water Policy Scholar through the School of Freshwater Sciences, sees several applications for this function. For instance, it might be useful for a state agency seeking input about water pollution issues.

“I hope this project shows that there’s a complex network of information that you should bring into the conversation early,” Noodin says. “These are nations that are making the same decisions that cities and states have to make.”

Map of Native American nations in the Great Lakes region
A preliminary version of the digital map project shows the locations of Native American nations in the Great Lakes region. (Image courtesy of Lintaro Kajiwara)