Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bands learning to map territories on Google Earth

VICTORIA—Google Earth soon may extend it global gaze to some of the most remote First Nations’ territories in Canada.
Google employees will be teaching members from about 70 First Nations across the country how to chart their land on the application during a four-day Indigenous Mapping Workshop at the University of Victoria that started yesterday.

There were to be two days of lectures followed by two days of hands-on training, with the goal of getting attendees to draw out their territories.
The Firelight Group, which is hosting the event, expects the maps created during the project will be private, although First Nations may upload data online if they want to make it public.
Steven DeRoy, a director with the association, said the course will allow aboriginal groups to chart multiple items on their land and compare their relationships.
He noted that interactions between wildlife, community, and water are just a few examples of the many things that can be represented on an electronic map, which, he added, also are easier to use than traditional maps.
“Historically, people would have had to look at paper maps and pull out another map if they wanted to see another layer, and then pull out another map if they wanted to see another theme,” said DeRoy.
But electronic mapping technology allows people to look at several things at once.
Some First Nations already are well-versed in e-mapping, but DeRoy said many others are not due to a lack of resources and training.
Electronic mapping applications can cost thousands of dollars, making them unaffordable to many.
However, the workshop hopes to make the technology more accessible by teaching people how to use Google Earth, which is free.
First Nations already using the application still have something to gain from the conference, DeRoy said, as people also will be discussing best practices.
“I think the dialogue is important,” he remarked.
“The software changes so fast that to be able to stay on top of these changing technologies can be a challenge for many nations.”
The event is supported by the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the union, is expected to address the gathering.
“I think this conference has a lot to do with the evolution of technology,” Phillip noted.
The uses of e-mapping extend far beyond simply drawing borders around territories.
Phillip said the technology could be used to document potential environmental damage occurring on First Nations’ lands, as well as to examine the consequences of accidents such as the recent Mount Polley tailings pond spill.
“If you could develop a map showing all of the waterways that would be impacted by that spill, that would be a very graphic representation of the harm that has been inflicted on the environment,” said Phillip.
“I think issues like that will be discussed.”
Electronic mapping also could prove helpful in resolving land-claim conflicts.
“When you’re discussing a land-use conflict issue, the first thing that comes out is the maps,” Phillip noted.

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