"For a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all."

-John F. Kennedy in
the introduction to The American Heritage Book of Indians

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Case of the Missing Indian Reservations

Quick! Somebody call Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys because we have a mystery on our hands.

Sometime between the first week of February and the last week of May, American Indian reservations disappeared from Google Maps!

Back in February 2011, I wrote a blog post titled Strange Tan Blotches in South Dakota: Indian Reservations in Online Maps about the unique look of Indian reservations in Google Maps.

They were featured on the maps as gray geometric shapes without any labeling whatsoever to identify them as reservations. The uninformed user could easily mistake them for military bases, oil fields, National Parks, or any other large features.

Notice in the screenshot below the off-color areas in the Dakotas, Montana, Arizona, and other states. Those gray blotches circled in red are Indian reservations as they used to appear in Google Maps.

Original Image Source: AppAppeal.com

Now use the Google Maps tool below to scroll around America and try and find those same gray areas.

They are gone!

It was bad enough that these reservations were unlabeled in the first instance but to drop them altogether from Google Maps takes it to a whole new level. Someone, somewhere at Google Inc. had to make the decision to remove the reservations. I can only wonder about their reasoning- relevancy, visual clarity, just too much clutter?

I understand Google Maps prefers brevity and a nice visual aesthetic over volumes of information but the removal of Indian reservations from its mapping service is more important than you think. Consider how many millions of Americans use Google Maps to find directions, locate a business, plan a vacation, or just browse American geography!

Now, a simple decision at the corporate headquarters will forever affect how millions of Americans understand (or don't understand) the geographic and social reality of this country.

UPDATE: Indian Reservations are back in Google Maps... but for how long?



  1. Sometime in the last year I showed colleagues in AIS the difference in the Bing and Google maps. I didn't know that Google has dropped them altogether. Interesting. And you're right. Someone had to make a decision to take them off.

    Browsing at the NYT this morning I returned to a page I'd looked at before and ended up doing a blog post on their mapping feature---it doesn't include American Indian as a demographic.

  2. nice blog brother..but actually before islam,christinaity...etc there is one religion .that is hindu religion it has no birth.And people are in india spread all over the worlds many thousnads of years back.If u see copen (mayan;s city) there so many hindu idols we can find that too they are thousands of years back. so the thing here is the whole world started from the india not from africa..becz u can find ancient people(they dnt know how to alk and dnt wear clothes) in andaman nicbar islands near by india.So i want to say that is red indians are followed hinduism long back..means thousands of years.