The native names of Canada

TitleComing Home to Indigenous Place Names in Canada [excerpt]
CreatorMargaret W. Pearce
Dimensions84 × 107 cm
LocationLeventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library
Because the place names in this map are the the intellectual and cultural property of the First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities on whose territories they are located, we do not have permission to duplicate this map in our digital exhibition. To view this map online, please visit the Canadian-American Center at the University of Maine and download a PDF after accepting the Terms of Use.

When European settlers began violently pushing into North America, covering the continent with their own political territories, cities, and ways of life, they dropped place names onto their maps, an act of nominative power that made cartography a crucial instrument of displacement and dispossession (). In an irony deeply tinged with colonial racism, Europeans often borrowed place names from the same native groups against whom they were committing a genocide, sometimes retaining a degree of their original meaning, but more often twisting the pronunciation and connotation of these words into languages like English, French, Dutch, and Spanish.

Read an interview with Margaret Pearce by Catherine D’Ignazio, the co-creator of the City Formerly Known as Cambridge map. Link →

In this map, the cartographer Margaret Pearce, herself a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, has shown how naming is a political act by working with several hundred people from indigenous communities across Canada to create a map of place names whose legitimacy is rooted in the cultural authority of these tribal nations. Each of these names is associated with a set of permissions: the names are treated seriously as intellectual property.


Pearce 2004
Margaret Pearce, “Encroachment by Word, Axis, and Tree: Mapping Techniques from the Colonization of New England,” Cartographic Perspectives 48 (2004): 24–38. doi:10.14714/CP48.457