In this full-color atlas, Nelson (Toli, 2016, etc.), a citizen of the Chickasaw nation, relates the history of that Native American people through maps drawn by them and others.
The Chickasaw nation—whose members formerly lived in the woodlands of what is now Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, and now reside primarily in Oklahoma—has a long history of mapmaking. As Nelson puts it in his introduction, an early deerskin map, credited to Chickasaw Fani’ Minko’ and drawn in 1723, looks like “a fantastic backyard-football play diagram or a primitive, whimsical star chart,” but it is, in fact, an accurate map of an area in the Carolinas. It’s appropriate that the Chickasaw people have continued to be respected mapmakers into the 21st century, considering how much of their history has been shaped as maps of North America have changed—drawn by agents of other powers and interests. Nelson’s collection documents this history, including a 1593 map from the Aztec Codex Quetzalecatzin, and charts of would-be conquerors, such as Spanish explorer Alonso de Santa Cruz, who, in 1572, drew a map marking Native settlements along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. There are dozens of charts from the 19th century that, in order, seem almost like a flip book of U.S. government policies of forced relocation. As the maps shift to counties and municipalities in Oklahoma, the full scope of what was lost becomes disturbingly clear. Nelson includes brief chapter introductions, as well as informative captions that alert readers to notable features of each map. However, the charts often speak quite well for themselves, as in an 1805 map of Chickasaw lands that the French mapmaker labels, in large letters, “Country Quite Inhabited.” With more than 150 maps covering several centuries, this book offers a remarkable visual representation of the arbitrary nature of borders and the massive impact that they can have on defining—or erasing—entire civilizations. It’s a haunting reflection on the dynamism of culture and geography. “Maps have always been alive and changing,” Nelson reminds readers. “And so are Chickasaws.”
A beautiful work of post-colonial criticism in the form of cartography.