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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

No. 380: Akka Makkoye, Indian Mapmaker: Part Two

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It was February in 1801, when Akka Makkoye drew a map in the snow and earth for explorer Peter Fidler.

Akka Makkoye, or Many Swans, was a Siksika leader from southern Alberta.

As ethnologist Susan Berry explains, Akka Makkoye's map showed the territory from the Red Deer River south to Wyoming and west from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean.

Akka Makkoye knew much of this territory first hand through travels that he made. And there were trade routes that spanned the continent which he travelled along, and other parts he knew from conversations that he'd had with other aboriginal people.

The map not only in the broad outlines encompassed all of this area, but it was pretty detailed. It identified major landmarks, such as rivers, streams, mountains, lakes; noted how many days' travel it would take to go from one landmark to another. It noted the vegetation, if it was grasslands, or if you were moving towards more wood areas. It also identified 32 First Nations, all of the names, and the population estimates for each.

It was really quite a remarkable document. And much of this landscape had not been known, travelled or mapped by Europeans. For example, this map was the first to fill in the upper reaches of the Missouri River drainage and to show the Continental Divide in this part of the country.

Peter Fidler sketched Akka Makkoye's map and sent it back to Hudson's Bay headquarters at York Factory. From there it was sent to London.

The Hudson's Bay Company turned the map over to their cartographer, Aaron Arrowsmith. In 1802, he produced a map of North America that incorporated much of this information.

This was of special interest to the Americans. President Thomas Jefferson, having just purchased the Louisiana Purchase, took special interest in the fact the Missouri River could now be traced to the Rocky Mountains. It looked like a good route for getting to the Pacific. And so, he directed Lewis and Clark to take that route in travelling to the Pacific. And in fact, they took along this map, the Arrowsmith map, with the information provided by Akka Makkoye, on their famous expedition.

Akka Makkoye drew his map in the snow and earth without the aid of surveying instruments.

The scale and proportion required some adjustment, but it clearly demonstrated that the European fur trade was built on an existing trade network that Aboriginal people had already established across North America.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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