Published: May 31, 2017

Professor Sarah KrakoffVisitors to the newest exhibition at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Jerry Crail Johnson Earth Sciences & Map Library will not only observe art and maps underscoring the history of indigenous peoples’ lands in the United States, but will also be treated to a guest essay written by University of Colorado Law School Raphael J. Moses Professor Sarah Krakoff.

Krakoff, an expert in Indian law and natural resources law, offers historical context to government-published maps featured in the exhibit, as well as commentary on Indian land law throughout the centuries and in today’s society.

“The maps in this collection provide an impressionistic tour through the United States' fraught relationship with Native American tribes,” Krakoff writes in her essay.

Krakoff’s written piece serves as a thought-provoking complement to the exhibit, which features maps and artwork by Navajo painter, print maker, and sculptor Melanie Yazzie, professor of art and art history and head of printmaking at CU Boulder. Together, they address issues faced by indigenous peoples in the U.S. and honor the vast breadth of Native homelands lost to Euro-American settlement. 

In her artist statement about the exhibit, Yazzie said: “I hope to inspire others to know that we [Native Americans] were here before and are still present on this land we call the United States.”

Also on display are distribution maps that indicate where indigenous peoples lived throughout North American history, reservation maps, tourist maps, and educational maps from Native American publishers.

In her essay, Krakoff comments:

“Maps were used to identify Native territory for the purpose of entering into treaties with tribes and obtaining safe passage. Next, maps were used to mark reservation boundaries and secure treaties that ceded any lands outside of those boundaries. 

Maps also reflect the dominant society's view of tribes as objects of cultural curiosity.

Native American tribes have endured all of these one-sided cartographies, and today provide input for their own maps.”

Krakoff’s areas of expertise include American Indian law, natural resources and public land law, and environmental justice. Assisting indigenous communities remains central to her work and scholarship. She leads Colorado Law’s Acequia Project, which offers free legal services for low-income farmers in the San Luis Valley, in addition to teaching multiple courses. Her seminar, The Law of the Colorado River, concludes with a rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

Krakoff has published multiple works about the areas of interest near to her heart, including American Indian Law: Cases and Commentary, co-authored with Bob Anderson and Bethany Berger; Tribes, Land and Environment, co-edited with Ezra Rosser, and articles in the Stanford Law Review, California Law Review, as well as other law journals. She also regularly authors or co-authors amicus briefs in American Indian law and public lands cases in federal courts throughout the country.

The exhibit is on display through August 4, 2017, in the Jerry Crail Johnson Earth Sciences & Map Library on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. To learn more, visit