The purpose of the Native Land Information System (NLIS) is to compile, consolidate and visualize data and information that Indigenous people of North American 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. It aims at challenging the status quo around historical data colonialism in Native Lands.

"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 people 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.

Our Commitment

  • To approach our work with a good heart by always doing our best to honor indigenous peoples and indigenous ways of knowing
  • To critically and carefully weighing 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

Development Team

David Bartecchi
David Bartecchi

Executive Director, Village Earth
Director, NLAP

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

Research Director, NLAP