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GIS and Traditional Knowledge

The Secwepemc Nation in BC (British Columbia)

The traditional territory of the SIMPCW and Secwepemc people of the Shuswap Nation is found at the head of the North Thompson River in British Columbia. A small group of these people has found a way to combine new technologies with traditional knowledge for the benefit of their community and nation.

In 1993, a few members of the Shuswap Nation had the opportunity to receive some training in GIS, the Geographic Information System. GIS isn't one system but the combination of data sources about geography like satellite imagery, mapping and even traditional knowledge brought together through the power of computers. It might not seem like a big deal, but working with GIS it becomes very easy to place lots of information on a map. Why is this important? Well, the Shuswap know.

Using this technology, the members of the SIMPCW GIS Team, as they are called, have been able to make maps which contain information about all the different ways their people have traditionally used the land. Using these maps, the team can help determine the impact of any new development on their trap lines, fishing waters etc. For instance, if the band council wanted to develop some of the mineral resources on its land, the proposed roads and mining site could electronically be placed on top of the GIS developed map of traditional land use, and any conflict with trap lines or sacred grounds avoided.

The SIMPCW GIS team developed their maps by consulting Elders and other people who know about their traditional territory. From these consultations they create a database which can then be combined with other information like existing satellite images and databases such as the Fish and Fish Habitat Inventory Program maintained by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The team has undertaken contracts for both government ministries and their own band council.

GIS is only one of the many growing uses of computer technology in Native communities. In other places computers are used to sell the work of local artisans around the world, or even run online casinos. While computers are a relatively new technology they can be combined with traditional activities for the benefit of the community.

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