Aaron Carapella completes third
map in series dedicated to compiling 'true names' of Native American
Aaron Carapella has added Mexico to his unique map collection
that reflects the true names of Native American tribes across the
United States and Canada before the groups had contact with Europeans.
Carapella, who is part Cherokee, said he spent 14 years making
the continental U.S. map and he has been working on the Mexico map
for about the same amont of time, though the final push to get it
done took about six months.
"I've tried to stay on a path, first getting the U.S. one done,
then Canada, then Mexico," he said. "I am trying to put the puzzle
pieces together of what pre-contact indigenous North America looked
Carapella said his fluency in Spanish helped him make the Mexico
map. He said he met many indigenous people from Mexico over the
years since he was a teenager and that knowledge helped him get
outside of straight book research.
"One thing Americans don't usually know, there are huge segments
of the Native population of Mexico that have come up to the United
States and settled into their own communities here in the U.S.,"
Carapella said. "One thing I kind of learned when making this map
is how many tribes were wiped out in Mexico, I didn't really realize
that until I really started completing the research on it."
He said that, as with the map he did of Canada, the border between
Mexico and the U.S. is an arbitrary one that did not exist for the
tribes his map reflects.
"There are probably about two dozen tribes that are existing
today that have populations on either side of the U.S./Mexico border,"
Carapella said. "What's interesting is that on the Mexican side,
that's where the language and culture has been preserved the best."
He said the reason for that preservation is assimilation efforts
by the Mexican government were not as stringent as the American
efforts to relocate children to boarding schools where they were
not allowed to keep their language or culture.
"I went to one town where all the children speak their language,"
Carapella said. "But if you go to San Diego, there are maybe 10
children growing up with that language on all the reservations.
It's kind of interesting the dynamics of how historically it has
played out if a tribe happens to land on one side of the border
He said that about 95 percent of the people in Mexico are native
or have some type of Native descent. In the U.S. about one percent
of the population is affiliated with a tribe.
"In Mexico it is so permeated throughout the population that
the only tribes that actually carry cards are some of those border
tribes and they carry those cards so they can get across the border
without being disturbed," Carapella said.
In the last couple of decades, he said the U.S. and Mexican
governments have come to terms with a "rite of passage" for certain
tribes to cross the border for ceremonies at different times of
the year where they historically did before the border existed.
"There is some effort in recent times for the governments to
recognize, 'hey, we crossed a path right through these people's
nations,'" Carapella said.
He said because Native Americans in the U.S. are so regulated
by the federal government, that leads the majority of native people
here to recognize Mexicans as Indians, too.
"It's almost like an underlying movement among a lot of Native
Americans to write off and dismiss the Indian connection, if the
person has a tribal card saying they are 1/16th native they feel
like they have the right to dismiss a full-blooded Indian in Mexico
because they don't have a card," Carapella said. "It is just a really
But this does not mean that there are not similar problems within
the communities in Mexico, too, where a caste system is in place
where most people claim to have predominately Spanish blood.
"There is a lot of emphasis on de-Indianizing somone," Carapella
said. "Down there instead of calling someone stupid or dumb, they'll
say, 'no seas Indio' which means, 'don't be an Indian,' a very derogatory
Carapella said showing that the borders were non-existent during
pre-contact times was only one reason for making the Mexico map.
He said there are a lot of Mexican American people in the U.S. who
either know or are seeking what tribes they are from and they are
proud of that heritage.
"One reason I made this map, it's a visual display for people
that their ancestors were from Mexico and now they are displaced,"
Carapella said. "I just want people to take pride in where they
come from in Mexico, too. That's also Indian country if you look
at it historically. I just hope to instill some pride in Native
people no matter where they come from."
His next map is Alaska.
More information about Carapella and his maps can be found at