A new interactive map from the science and humanities magazine Aeon tells a vital story that Americans tend to conveniently forget: this land was not our land. Hit “play,” and you’ll see every cession of land from native peoples between 1784 and today. From the birth of our country to today, we seized 1.5 billion acres of native land.
“As late as 1750—some 150 years after Britain established Jamestown and fully 250 years after Europeans first set foot in the continent—[Native Americans] constituted a majority of the population in North America, a fact not adequately reflected in textbooks,” Claudio Saunt writes in an accompanying article. “Even a century later, in 1850, they still retained formal possession of much of the western half of the continent.”
With Saunt’s map, you can watch the shift occur. Each part is clickable, with information on the treaties that were used to negotiate cessions available via links in pop-up boxes. You can also search for a location or any Native American nation, such as Cherokee or Sioux, to see the land they once possessed. Color coding distinguishes between native lands (blue) and reservations (orange). The latter have dwindled significantly since their creation.
Saunt’s article is a sobering explanation of the nefarious methods the United States used to seize land. Since most land was “ceded” using treaties, it may appear that Native Americans gave up their land willingly and peacefully, but in many cases they had no other options and handed over the land though bribery or force. The government also used federal legislation and executive order to take land from natives. In the 19th century, presidents like Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Grover Cleveland created small reservations for tribes that once controlled vast areas. The Invasion of America is a stark demonstration of how quickly these legal fictions were used to erase people, and just how much what was once their land we now claim as our own.