Indigenous cartographic insights and cybermapping

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In 1997, Dr. DR Fraser Taylor, Director of the Center for Geomatics and Mapping Research, introduced a new approach to mapping that gives voice to communities. His research led to the creation and establishment of the field of cybermapping. In short, cybermapping is an interactive, multimedia and multi-sensory online mapping format that uses location as an organizing principle and integrates cultural, historical, linguistic, economic and social data with cartographic information. In 2007, William Commanda saw the benefits of this innovative platform to chart his own story.

Dr. Taylor notes that “the creation of cyber-cartographic atlases on the GCRC’s Nunaliit digital atlas framework has generated great interest among Indigenous communities, in part because it is based on development principles that I have noted for the first time in my work in East Africa. This early research demonstrated the importance of the holistic approach to knowledge retention and generation of the Kikuyu peoples of Kenya, and the innovative mapping of diverse cultural, social and economic variables, while contributing to respecting the interrelationships between different knowledge systems.

In 1977, Ella-Han’sa articulated the concept of the circle of life at the first circumpolar conference. This raised the voice of Inuit and inspired connections and partnerships with northern communities. With respect to cybermapping, closer engagement with First Nations and Inuit communities facilitated the introduction of new functionality into the Nunaliit atlas authoring platform; and in fact, the name Nunaliit, (or “community” in Inuktituut), reflects the dynamic nature of partnership with Inuit colleagues. Many Inuit communities, including elders and youth, have engaged in map making and storytelling in the creation of cyber cartographic atlases. One in 10 Photoatlas One in 10 Photoatlas Cybercartographic Atlas 2021 examines some of this important cartography that incorporates environmental knowledge, land and waterways, language and cultural heritage.

“Today, I am more convinced than ever that Inuit knowledge is an independent knowledge system of equal importance to Western systems,” says Dr. Taylor. This body of knowledge that is currently emerging in academia is partly articulated by Indigenous peoples in publications on cybermapping.

Dr. Taylor adds that “Indigenous mapping must first and foremost be for the benefit of Indigenous communities. This means they must have control over what is mapped and how that knowledge is mapped and shared. Existing approaches such as the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) even modified by the CARE principles (Collective Benefit, Authority to Control, Responsibility, Ethics) do not fully meet these requirements.

In Canada, the Ownership Control Access and Possession (OCAP) principles are an improvement, but there are still significant legal, ethical and social issues to be resolved. For example, Indigenous knowledge is not protected by copyright law in Canada. The copyright in Indigenous maps belongs to those who produce them, and in many cases that is Google or Esri, not the Indigenous communities.”

In a globally connected world, new opportunities to support relationships and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are emerging in the field of Indigenous mapping, in line with William Commanda’s philosophy that all is interdependent both in time and in the space. In these times of global pandemic, environmental catastrophe, and human crisis, it is becoming apparent to many how critical it is to truly listen to the still, small voices of connection and warning that are the world’s Indigenous peoples.

Romola V. Thumbadoo

PhD Geography, SSHRC Postdoctoral Researcher ([email protected])

Romola V. Thumbadoo has supported the work of Indigenous Elder William Commanda since 1997 https://circleofallnations.ca. His doctoral and postdoctoral research over the past decade has focused on his thought and legacy, under the direction of Dr. DR Fraser Taylor, Director of the Center for Geomatics and Mapping Research https://gcrc.carleton.ca at Carleton University .


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