This UA professor created an app to explore DC’s Native American history


When American University professor Elizabeth Rule learned that her students from Tribal Nations did not feel welcome in DC, she was determined to help, in the form of a mobile app.

“I realized that I knew the Indigenous history of this town and the contemporary diasporic Indigenous community that lives and works here today,” she said. “So I ventured to create this mobile app as a way to share these stories with Indigenous youth and inspire them to keep coming to DC”

The app, called “Guide to Indigenous DC,” aims to educate users about DC’s Indigenous history and was the subject of Rule’s presentation at a virtual event Thursday hosted by the City Planning Commission. the national capital.

In her presentation, Rule – who is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation – explained how the app she developed informs users of people, places and events related to the district’s Native American history to “highlight Indigenous contributions to our Nation’s Capital”.

“Granted, a place like Washington, DC isn’t always associated with indigenous people or even tribal history,” she said. “But it is precisely this element that I seek to highlight to a wide audience through this technological development.”

The app features a walking tour format that guides users through 17 sites of Indigenous significance in the DC area, including the Tribal Nations Embassy, ​​National Museum of American Indian, and National Elders Memorial Native American fighters. The sites have been curated in close collaboration with historians and members of the indigenous community and encourage participants to recognize the peoples whose homelands the district was built upon.

Rule, an assistant professor in AU’s Critical Race, Gender and Culture Studies department, said the inspiration for the app came from a desire to bring Indigenous narratives to the forefront of public conversation.

“The idea for an app was really to do something that would be publicly visible, that would be accessible to a very large audience, and something that would be engaging,” she said. “I wanted to present, in a digital format, the Aboriginal connections with [the] Earth.”

Rule also said she was interested in the “transformative power of the identification points” on the map, which provides users with places to reflect on and commemorate Native American history. She said harnessing this power is at the heart of using mapping “to reclaim our narrative as Indigenous people.”

“Very often Indigenous voices, stories and narratives go unheard in public discourse,” she said. “I’m interested in looking at this mapping project as a way to defend these stories from erasure.”

A graduate of Yale and Brown University, Rule’s research on Indigenous issues has been featured in various publications such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic and NPR. In 2020, the published author received the Julien Mezey thesis prize for her work “Reproducing Resistance: Gender-Based Violence and Indigenous Nationality”, an essay that examines the convergence of reproductive justice, violence against Indigenous women and the concept of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Rule’s research has taken her to more than 100 public speaking engagements across three continents and seven countries, she says. website. When she’s not giving guest lectures, Rule is busy expanding her digital map. In November, she launched “Guide to Indigenous Baltimore” and plans to eventually supplement her apps with a full manuscript published by Georgetown University Press.

His decision to incorporate examples of contemporary Indigenous activism into DC’s tour, such as the March of the Indigenous Peoples – which is found at Site Three – was key to supporting one of his main arguments about the role that DC plays for indigenous communities.

“It’s really important to the project because it shows how Washington, DC is not only the national capital, but I actually argue in my manuscript that Washington, DC is the political capital of Indian Country,” Rule said. “We have tribal leaders and also grassroots Indigenous activists who often come to DC to advocate for their political interests and causes.”

During the event, Rule encouraged students to learn about the land they live and learn on and stressed the importance of seeing the Indigenous community through a contemporary lens.

“There is this tendency in society to confuse native people with mere historical subjects, to think of us only in terms of prehistory or precontact,” she said during the presentation. “The fact is that we are here. Our tribal nations and sovereign governments are functioning and we contribute enormously to places like our nation’s capital.

Rule said that when decisions are made that will impact Native American communities, the focus should be on supporting tribal sovereignty to ensure “Native people have a seat at the table.”

“When we support tribal sovereignty, what we are supporting is the tribes deciding what issues are important to them,” she said.

Looking ahead, Rule said she hopes her app will open up a brighter future for her community by raising awareness about Indigenous topics. She said it would remind audiences of the important role Indigenous peoples have played and continue to play in DC’s past and present.

“I want to make this information available to a wide audience in order to chart positive change that will impact Indigenous communities in the future,” she said. “It’s really going to convey the idea that we belong in this space even if that’s not necessarily the narrative we’ve been taught.”

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