Friday

Written by Carl Sack Cartographer, Graduate Student. When I decided to become a cartographer, I didn’t just want to make pretty and useful maps. I became a cartographer to make maps that change the world for the better.

 Right now, no situation needs this kind of map more than the current drama unfolding around the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline’s crossing of the Missouri River.

Yet for all that, when I went out to camp with the water protectors at Oceti Sakowin on October 13, I had to rely on a friend’s hand-drawn sketch posted to Facebook for directions to the camp. If you Google “NoDAPL map,” you’ll find few maps available to provide visual context for the unfolding drama. The most popular seems to be the company’s own very-small-scale route map, showing a dotted line over highlighted counties on a generic road map backdrop.

This kind of view erases the people affected by the pipeline – quite literally, by covering over their communities with a hot pink gradient fill. It doesn’t tell you that all of Turtle Island (North America) is Indian Country, or that the project runs headlong into international treaties signed between the U.S. and various tribes and then unilaterally violated by Congress. It doesn’t show you where the frontline communities have set up camp to fight back (and here I realize that I should also make a map of the Bold Iowa resistance camp), or where the pipeline company, spurred on by the internal pressure of their $3.8 billion investment, has bulldozed sacred ground, or where exactly a pipeline break would endanger the drinking water of millions downstream.

A map that shows how project could endanger the drinking water of millions.

There was one other better map of the project that I found and was partially inspired by ― a relatively simple yet powerful map by Jordan Engle (with help from Dakota Wind) published by The Decolonial Atlas. It uses the indigenous placenames for key waterways and sites in the vicinity of the Sacred Stones Camp (translations are on the blog post linked to above). It is oriented to the south, challenging the typical viewpoint of Western maps. This map has truly not gotten the attention it deserves.

Dakota Access Pipeline Route Map by Energy Transfer Partners ( This map shows nothing essential)

Maps like this are great, and there should be more of them. However, I felt strongly that there still needed to be a map of the area that would look familiar to most viewers and orient them to the important geographic facts of the struggle. I don’t claim that none of those facts are currently in dispute, but I recognize that all maps (even road maps overlaid with pink polygons) take a position and create knowledge based on the cartographer’s point of view. Maps have great power, and it’s a power anyone with pen and paper or a computer can wield.

Dakota Access Pipeline Indigenous Protest Map by Jordan Engle and Dakota Wind, The Decolonial Atlas.
My geographer hero Zoltan Grossman once declared, “The side with the best maps wins.” The pipeline company has an army backed by state power to do its bidding. The water has its scrappy protectors. It’s time we put the latter on the map.

The original blog post is available here. To download a large-scale printable version of the map

A #NoDAPL Map Written by Carl Sack Cartographer, Graduate Student.

Responses to "The Dakota Access Pipeline Map Everyone Should See"

  1. Well done

  2. Larry S says:

    Thank you. This map is very useful.

  3. Finally some freaking AWESOME maps!

    Now we just need to see some of the land the Army Corp of Engineers are calling Federal land - with a Drone capture of what they are doing.

  4. Finally some freaking AWESOME maps!

    Now we just need to see some of the land the Army Corp of Engineers are calling Federal land - with a Drone capture of what they are doing.

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