ABOUT THE NATIVE LAND INFORMATION SYSTEM

The purpose of the Native Land Information System (NLIS) is to compile, consolidate, and visualize data and information that Indigenous peoples of North America need to protect their lands and resources and plan for the future. 

Overview of the Native Land Information System (NLIS)

The Native Land Information System (NLIS) was developed by the Native Lands Advocacy Project (NLAP); a project of Village Earth, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Fort Collins, Colorado, with funding from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. The NLIS serves as repository of learning resources, information, and data to help defend and protect Native lands for the benefit of Native peoples. The NLIS also aims to challenge the status quo of historical data colonialism in the United States.

"The colonial world is a world divided into compartments...Yet, if we examine closely this system of compartments, we will at least be able to reveal the lines of force it implies. This approach to the colonial world, its ordering and its geographical layout will allow us to mark out the lines on which a decolonized society will be reorganized."

Frantz Fanon

Table of Contents

This quote summarizes well the strategy of the Native Lands Advocacy Project. For Native Americans, these “compartments” are the reservation, the district, the allotment, the township, the section, and the tract. All of these compartments serve as wedges to divide Native peoples by superimposing a land tenure system that understands land purely as a commodity and detached from a cultural or spiritual connection. It is a land tenure system that places primacy on the Western construct of the individual and nuclear family, which over time grinds away at the bonds of extended families, bands, tribes, etc. and prevents the development of alternative land uses and views. In brief, it is a historically-constructed colonial system that continues to destroy Native rights to live on their land as they see fit.

An important word in Fanon’s quote is “system.” The “system” cannot be revealed looking at each compartment individually. Rather, we must step-back and look at how all the compartments connect over time to reveal the underlying system. This is an important goal of the NLIS: we present the data on Native lands in aggregate and within historical context. By understanding the “system” and how it works in details, we can develop more effective strategies to transform it into a support structure that promotes the well being and sovereignty of Native peoples.

Click here to learn more about our position on data sovereignty!

Empowering Native Control of Land Through Data

"[D]ata are the building blocks of good governance; however, equal access to these data is not guaranteed. Tribes may not have ready access to the data collected by external agents about their citizens, lands, and resources, which underscores the need for tribal protection, ownership and application of tribal data",

National Congress of American Indians - Support of US Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Inclusion of Tribes in the Development of Tribal Data

Much of the data about Native lands and Native peoples is collected and maintained by the United States Government, however much of this data is not readily available to Tribes and Native peoples. Established in 1824, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for the administration and management of 55 million surface acres and 57 million acres of subsurface minerals estates held in trust by the United States for American Indian, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives. Despite this huge responsibility, there is very little transparency or accountability when it comes to the BIA’s performance as Trustee. According to a 2009 Program Evaluation of the BIA Realty and Trust Program (the most recent) by the Department of Interior’s office, the Inspector General acknowledged that “The BIA Realty and Trust Program plays a key role in keeping the DOI promise “to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives.” yet he excoriated the Bureau for its continued failure to develop meaningful performance measures. Specifically, the report states that in “Real Estate Services, acquisition and disposal of land and lease compliance activities are significant functions that also lack measures.” The failure of the BIA to provide even basic information about leasing and transactions of Native lands makes public scrutiny of these programs difficult, if not impossible.

Our Two Areas of Focus

Consequently to the above, most data available at the nation scale reflects the colonizer’s mindset and attitudes towards natural resources. Ideally, available land use data would reflect local and culturally-specific perspectives specific to each Tribe. This data does not currently exist for All Native Lands and is part of the larger individual effort in which Tribes are engaged to produce their own data. However, due to the limitations of existing data at that scale, we have few options but to use existing datasets, despite their limitations. An important part of our approach is to try and look at these colonized datasets from a different angle, and process them in a way that brings more clarity, insight and understanding into land history and structural inequality and inform alternative design.

Generally, throughout the site, you will find that the Native Lands Advocacy Project mostly focuses on two primary areas:

  1. Documenting the history of Native land oppression in the United States
  2. Providing data support for sustainable planning on Native land
 
However, we chose not to organize the whole site this way because the past and the present connect to the future of Native lands and we wanted all data tools to be presented organically, so users can take them to support their local goals regardless of the way we frame it on the NLIS.

Disclaimer

This site, including all data dashboards, maps and raw data is intended for reference purposes only. Much of the data housed on this site is from the United States Government and/or third party sources, as such, Village Earth, the Native Lands Advocacy Project and its partners makes no warranties or claims about its accuracy or completeness. Additionally, the information presented here should not be considered authoritative or superior in any way to the data, knowledge, information and oral histories of Native peoples and/or Tribes as it relates to their lands and communities.

Our Commitment

  • To approach our work with a good heart by always doing our best to honor Indigenous peoples, inherent sovereignty, and ways of knowing
  • To critically and carefully weigh the value of a particular data set for promoting Native peoples vs. how that data might compromise a community’s privacy and right to opacity.
  • To support Native research capacity-building
  • To license our data products using the Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike” so it can be shared
    but not be used for commercial purposes.  
  • To practice a forward-thinking methodology geared towards constantly improving datasets
  • To participate in changing the perception of Native land through data

NLAP Team

David Bartecchi
David Bartecchi

Executive Director of Village Earth & Director of NLAP

David has over 20 years experience working in Indian Country with a focus on Indian Land Tenure, Community Mapping, Bison Restoration, and challenging the numbers used by HUD in the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG). He received his M.A. in Anthropology from Colorado State University in 1998 and has served as Executive Director of Village Earth since 2008.

Aude Chesnais, Ph.D.
Aude Chesnais, Ph.D.

Research Director

Aude (pronounced "owed") is a political ecologist and senior researcher for the Native Land Information System. She has worked for over 10 years on issues of sustainable land use and food-systems on tribal land, with sustained collaboration with Lakota communities in South Dakota, US. Her work bridges qualitative research with GIS technology, data visualization and decolonial methodologies to design locally useful research that supports indigenous innovation and sovereignty. She is particularly interested in regenerative food-systems and how innovative research design can support the just transition to build climate resilient sovereign economies.

Cetan Christensen
Cetan Christensen

Researcher

Cetan is a researcher who loves all things connected to water. As an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota, and with affiliations with Ponca from Oklahoma, she is excited to participate in research and analysis rooted in the values of Indigenous communities of Turtle Island. She has a M.S. in Agricultural Biology from Colorado State University, where she studied riparian forest ecology, and a B.S. in Environmental Science, concentrating on water management and hydrologic science, from Metropolitan State University of Denver. Previous work experience has related to teaching STEAM, the application of scientific methods to answer ecological questions, mentoring, project management, water quality, and environmental policy.

Raven McMullin

Raven McMullin

Data Journalism Intern

Raven is from the Navajo reservation in Twin Lakes, NM. She received her B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Legal Studies from Colorado State University in 2020. She is interested in studying tribal policy as it relates to housing, health, and community development. Raven is helping NLAP to contextualize the maps, data and dashboards housed on the NLIS.

Phoebe Bauer

Phoebe Bauer

Data Visualization Intern

Phoebe is a data analyst and cartographer excited about the power of effective graphics to communicate complex information. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Reed College and a certificate in GIS from Portland Community College, and most recently worked as a GIS intern with the National Park Service at Bandelier National Monument. She works in pursuit of an honest understanding of human behavior, social dynamics, policy impacts, and community structure.

Kate Simota

Kate Simota

Researcher

Kate is a science communications professional and community organizer. She has worked on projects ranging from researching the long-term impacts of coal extraction in Black Mesa on the Navajo Nation to leading the communications and grassroots organizing for the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes effort to rename Mount Evans in Colorado. She supports NLIS with communications and data research.

Sponsors