Research Process

I have lived most of my life in Massachusetts, and I only very recently became educated on how prevalent the practice of using Indigenous words for place names is in the state of Massachusetts. I became interested in the intersection between the myth of the “disappearing/vanished Native” 1 and the widespread use of Indigenous place names.

In terms of this project, I was very aware of the time constraints of a single semester. I also am aware of the long-term use of cartography and maps as colonial tools, especially in the process of writing Indigenous people out of dominant U.S. history. Thus, I do not present this project as complete but rather a small part of what I imagine could be a substantive project interrogating Indigenous place names in Massachusetts. In an ideal world, the data gathered for this project would have been jointly created through collaboration with local Indigenous people. Some argue that truly decolonial maps are products not meant for non-Indigenous eyes 2, while others emphasize the importance of an active role of Indigenous people in the process of map making. 3 However, I was unable to connect with any people in this short time frame, but I acknowledge that a future iteration of this project would be more successful with that inclusion. 

Data Collection

I did not find any pre-existing data sets that contained the information I was interested in mapping, namely the place names in Massachusetts that are of Indigenous origin. Thus I created my own data sets for this project. For the state map, I created the data set using the information on place names found in William Bright’s Native American Placenames of the United States. 4 I identified all the place names in the state and tribes of origin to put them into a spreadsheet, and I then used Google Maps to identify the coordinates of each location to include in the data set. This dataset was then put into CARTO to create the state map.

For the map of Martha’s Vineyard, I followed a similar process as the state map, using Google maps to pull the coordinates of locations into a dataset to be mapped. I first went through Bright’s dictionary to pull out any place names on the island, which would represent the place names that were officially recognized by the United States government. For the case of Martha’s Vineyard, I wanted to show a comparison between these official names and the traditional Indigenous names for places throughout the island. I relied on the official website of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head/Aquinnah ( which featured a list of Wampanoag place names for locations on the island. 5


I used CARTO to create the interactive maps. I created all of the data sets to make the maps as described above. For the map of Martha’s Vineyard, I color coded the map points by whether the name was the legal name according to the United States government or whether it was the Indigneous name for the place that was not its legal name. For the map of Massachusetts, I color coded the map points by the names tribal origin, relying on William Bright’s dictionary of Indigenous placenames. 6 All of the points include more information (i.e. name and tribe of origin) when you hover over the point.

Works Cited


  1. Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. “All the Real Indians Died Off”: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans. Boston: Beacon Press, 2016.
  2. Hunt, Dallas. “Every Bus Stop a Tomb: Decolonial Cartographic Readings against Literary, Visual, and Virtual Colonial Claims to Space.” Cartographica: The International Journal for Geographic Information and Geovisualization 55, no. 3 (2020): 199-206
  3. Barnd, Natchee Blu. Native Space: Geographic Strategies to Unsettle Settler Colonialism. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University, 2017
  4. William Bright Native American Placenames of the United States. Norman,OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.
  5. “Wampanoag Ways.” Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head/Aquinnah.
  6. William Bright Native American Placenames of the United States. Norman,OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.