Instead of telling its users where they are, a new map-based app lets them know what where they are used to be.

Whose Land features interactive maps showing the proliferation of Indigenous communities in North America, past and present.

One map shows Indigenous communities’ traditional territories – the boundaries of their lands before contact with European settlers. Another features the areas covered by treaties with the Canadian and American governments. Another pinpoints locations of current First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities.

“It gives a good representation of how vast Indigenous nations were,” Mitch Holmes, one of the app’s developers, told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.

“A lot of people think there [weren’t] that many people here pre-contact, when there were tens of millions of people that were here.”

Teaching history is one of the app’s aims. Another is providing users with the information to properly make land acknowledgements, which have become a regular feature at schools and government events in recent years.

To this end, the app includes a number of videos showing Indigenous Canadians acknowledging their traditional territories. Holmes said this is one of his favourite parts of his involvement with Whose Land, as it involved training Indigenous youth on how to create the videos and then sending them back to their home communities to do so.

It took Holmes and his team nearly a year to research the history of all North American Indigenous communities before they were able to launch the app. They had to look up old maps and documents, call Indigenous friendship centres for local perspective, and fact-check everything they learned.

That doesn’t mean the maps are perfect. Holmes said his team hears feedback on a daily basis – some of it positive, and some of it from people quibbling with where boundary lines were drawn. Those complaints don’t faze Holmes, as he wants to make Whose Land as accurate as possible.

“We want to create this fluid, dynamic, ever-changing app that constantly recognizes whose territory we’re actually on,” he said.

Holmes is a project co-ordinator with TakingITGlobal, an organization focused on getting the world’s youth to solve global problems. TakingITGlobal is one of three groups behind the app, along with Indigenous-focused organization Canadian Roots Exchange and Bold Realities.

The free app was released in 2018 and is available through Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store. It also exists in website form.