Alive with Story: Mapping Indigenous Los Angeles and Carrying Our Ancestors Home

Sarah Montoya


As part of a continuum of resistance, digital projects and repositories offer platforms to reckon with settler representations of space and peoples. Two projects, Mapping Indigenous Los Angeles (MILA) and Carrying Our Ancestors Home (COAH), redress the relationship between Native and Indigenous bodies, communities, and land as they provide pedagogical tools for tribal communities, institutions, and settlers to dismantle settler colonial narratives. Mapping Indigenous LA, accessible at, unsettles colonial cartographic and geographic knowledge as it weaves together the stories of the Native and Indigenous inhabitants who originally occupied and have come to occupy Los Angeles as the result of complex relocations and diasporic processes. Indigenous digital counter-mapping projects confront and re-orient the colonial gaze through a nuanced rendering of relationships with space, place, and memory. Carrying Our Ancestors Home, accessible at, addresses the history and intricacies of repatriation and offers insight into how tribal communities and institutions address the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Digital repositories and archives facilitate the preservation of cultural heritage and lifeways while simultaneously evidencing the legacy of political mobilization and current activism by Native communities. Though largely based on Gabrielino/Tongva lands (Los Angeles), these projects seek to build solidarity amongst and serve as repositories for global Native, Indigenous, and Aboriginal communities.

Land is Life: Mapping Indigenous LA

The colonial construction of Native and Indigenous peoples is deeply entangled with techno-scientific development and the establishment of settler colonial property regimes. Within the bounds of a colonial fantasy and settler colonial imaginary, land is configured as an exploitable resource and Native and Indigenous peoples are flattened into “flora and fauna” as objects to be managed by the settler state.1 The rhetoric of scientific objectivity and cartographic practices emphasizing “accuracy” and utility were weaponized by imperial and colonial powers to guise settler violence as space was transformed from territory into property.2 The creation of a settler state legal mechanism for dispossession solidified the notion of “lawfully” owned property as a cornerstone of settler societies. Aboriginal scholar Aileen Moreton-Robinson (Koenpal, Quandamooka Nation) offers the term “possessive logics” to understand rhe link between property to a white, patriarchal settler identity which, in turn, is intimately connected with the political project of establishing and maintaining settler conceptions of ownership.5 Denied personhood, humanity, and history through strategic colonial cartographic erasures, Native and Indigenous communities were and are un-placed and displaced.

Mapping Indigenous LA disrupts colonial erasure and displacement via digital counter-mapping in the form of story mapping. Mapping Indigenous Los Angeles utilizes Esri’s Story Maps via ArcGIS to re-map complex relationships amongst Native and Indigenous communities and serve as a repository for community histories. It features Spanish and English content and offers a series of pedagogical resources for educators and community members alike. The project is envisioned as a collaborative research project, guided by co-principle investigators who represent a variety of departmental affiliations at UCLA including Dr. Maylei Blackwell, Professor in the Cesar E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o and Central American Studies, Dr. Mishuana Goeman (Tonawanda Band of Seneca), Professor in Gender Studies, and Dr. Wendy G. Teeter, Curator of Archaeology for the Fowler Museum and UCLA NAGPRA Coordinator. UCLA, as a land grant institution in one of the largest cities in the settler state of the U.S., functions an interdisciplinary hub for scholars working with and in Native and Indigenous communities. The project is supported by the Institute of American Cultures, California Humanities, University of California Humanities Research Institute, University of California Center for New Racial Studies, The UCLA Center for Digital Humanities, UCLA American Indian Studies Research Center, Social Science Computing, and the UCLA College of Social Sciences. Mapping Indigenous Los Angeles represents alliances and solidarities within the university and amongst Native and Indigenous communities within LA. The scope of the project includes Gabrielino/Tongva and Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, Pacific Islanders, peoples of Oceania, American Indian narratives of relocation to LA, peoples of the Latin American Indigenous Diaspora, and maps tracing Indigenous relationships with land and waterways. As part of its community collaboration, the site actively seeks to build relationships with Native and Indigenous peoples in LA and offers detailed guides on how to create community- authored maps to be featured on the site.

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