Hello everyone,

My name is Dexter, and I’ve just started an MA at the University of Victoria in Geography. I have read some previous posts, and see that the focus is heavily on data analysis. Disclaimer: I’m a little bit of an outsider when it comes to geomatics, and have a background in environmental studies.

My thesis aims to understand how online mapping tools have evolved over the years since the introduction of software such as Google Earth Engine to provide a space for Indigenous community members to participate in land-use and cultural decision making. I hope to accomplish this through a case study with a specific Indigenous group who have had past experience with online mapping tools.

Autonomy and self-determination is familiar rhetoric surrounding Indigenous peoples in British Columbia. The right to self-govern Indigenous lands and assert Indigenous ways of knowing back into the land is at the forefront of this rhetoric. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for Indigenous communities in Canada and globally to build capacity around their territories and economies. With the addition of online, participatory mapping systems, Indigenous communities can create spaces for their cultural knowledge, histories, and places that can be used within our Western system to fight for their right to self-determine.

In the past, online mapping systems have been clunky and hard to use. They have suffered from outdated software, a lack of community participation, issues of accessibility and privacy, slow internet connections, among others. Ultimately the story in the early 2000’s went a little something like this: Outsider researchers would enter a community, conduct extractive research to access the data that was necessary for their projects, leave the community, create the online mapping system, and then either deliver it back to the community in a way that didn’t allow all community members access or in a way that didn’t incentivize people to want to use it. Many of these systems could not be updated by Indigenous community members because they had not been trained to do so.  The intention of any research within an Indigenous community should be to give back a product that adds to their capacity as a Nation.

What does all of this have to do with Esri software? Fast forward to the present, and we have online mapping systems such as ArcGIS Online that make learning and participation in the mapping platform accessible in a way that doesn’t involve proprietary code and a degree in geomatics. What ArcGIS Online offers is a medium to deliver information in a cloud-based system that will consistently be updated and supported. This is a structure that a decade ago was not so common, and it brings attention to the previous limits to participatory online web mapping (along with many other limitations). Advancement in technology has fundamentally shifted the way communities interact with online mapping tools, and an exploration of whether these tools are ready to be used by Indigenous communities (free from outsider consultation) could open up an avenue for widespread implementation. This is why I chose to explore the evolution of mapping systems for Indigenous communities and I look forward to keeping everyone updated as my thesis unfolds.