A list of Papers and Journal Articles related to Aboriginal Mapping. Please contact us if you know of, or would like to submit, a paper.

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Participatory Spatial Information Management and Communication in Developing Countries

Giacomo Rambaldi, Peter A. Kwaku Kyem, Mike McCall, Daniel Weiner


The merging of participatory development methods with geo-spatial technologies has come to be known as Participatory GIS and is now an emergent development practice in its own right. PGIS combines a range of geo-spatial information management tools and methods such as sketch maps, participatory 3D models, community-based air photo and satellite imagery interpretation, GPS transect walks and GIS-based cognitive mapping. Participatory GIS implies making GIT&S available to disadvantaged groups in society in order to enhance their capacity in generating, managing, analysing and communicating spatial information.

PGIS practice is geared towards community empowerment through measured, demand-driven, user-friendly and integrated applications of geo-spatial technologies. GIS-based maps and spatial analysis thus become major conduits in the process. A good PGIS practice is embedded into long-lasting and locally driven spatial decision-making processes, is flexible, adapts to different socio-cultural and bio-physical environments, depends on multidisciplinary facilitation and skills and builds essentially on visual language. If appropriately utilized, the practice should exert profound impacts on community empowerment, innovation and social change. More importantly, by placing control of access and use of culturally sensitive spatial information in the hands of those who generated them, PGIS practice can protect traditional knowledge and wisdom from external exploitation.

Effective participation is the key to good PGIS practice. Whilst the focus of traditional GIS applications is often on the outcome, PGIS initiatives tend to emphasize the processes by which outcomes are attained. At times the participatory process can obfuscate systematic inequalities through unequal and superficial participation. For example, PGIS applications may be used to legitimise decisions which in fact were taken by outsiders. The process can also easily be hijacked by community elites. For PGIS practices to be successful, they must be placed in a well thought out and demand-driven process based on the proactive collaboration of the custodians of local and traditional knowledge and of facilitators skilled in applying PGIS and transferring technical know-how to local actors. Participation thus cuts across the process from gaining a clear understanding of the existing legal and regulatory frameworks, to jointly setting project objectives, defining strategies and choosing appropriate geo-spatial information management tools. The integrated and multifaceted nature of PGIS provides legitimacy for local knowledge and generates a great sense of confidence and pride which prepares participant communities in dealing with outsiders. The process is intended to build self-esteem, raise awareness about pressing issues in the community and produce concrete and sustainable spatial solutions.

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Spatial Analysis of an Ancient Cave Site

By Holley Moyes, State University of New York at Buffalo and Dr. Jaime J. Awe, University of New Hampshire

The Western Belize Regional Cave Project (WBRCP) has conducted investigations at the ancient Mayan cave site of Actun Tunichil Muknal since 1996. GIS is being used as a mapping and analytical tool in the investigation of the cave's Main Chamber, the area most intensively and extensively used by the ancient Maya.

The WBRCP is directed by one of the authors, Dr. Jaime Awe of the University of New Hampshire. The project is funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Counsel of Canada. Project work has included the creation of a GIS to investigate the Main Chamber of Actun Tunichil Muknal. This ancient Mayan cave site is located on a tributary of the Roaring Creek River.

A stream, originating within the cave, runs through its five-kilometer length and culminates at the cave's eastern entrance in a deep green pool. The Main Chamber occupies a high elevation passage above the main tunnel system some 500 meters from the cave entrance. The chamber consists of a series of rooms containing at least 718 artifacts, many of which were broken. Cross-dating of the ceramic assemblage suggests that the chamber was used during the Terminal Classic Period (830-950 C.E.).

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Mapping Boundaries, Shifting Power: The Socio-Ethical Dimensions of Participatory Mapping

By Jefferson Fox, Krisnawati Suryanata, Peter Hershock, and Albertus Hadi Pramono

The recent growth in the availability of modern spatial information technology (SIT) – geographic information systems (GIS), low-cost global positioning systems (GPS), remote sensing image analysis software – as well as the growth of participatory mapping techniques has enabled communities to make maps of their lands and resource uses, and to bolster the legitimacy of their customary claims to resources by appropriating the state’s techniques and manner of representation (Peluso 1995). Since the publication of Hugh Brody’s seminal work on mapping the lands of native Americans in the Canadian sub-Artic (1981), participatory mapping has enabled the successful demarcation of land claims that led to: the signing of treaties (e.g. Nisga’a); compensations for land loss (Native American, Maori); and formation of indigenous territory and government (e.g. Nunavut).

But, the impacts of widespread adoption of SIT at the local level are not limited to the intended objectives. Among the unintended consequences of mapping have been increased conflict between and within communities (Sirait et al., 1994; Poole 1995; Sterritt et al., 1999); loss of indigenous conceptions of space and increased privatization of land (Fox 2002); and increased regulation and co-optation by the state (Urit 2001; Majid Cooke 2003). Consequently, mapping technology is viewed as simultaneously empowering and disadvantaging indigenous communities (Harris and Weiner 1998). Researchers working under the umbrella of Research Initiative 19 of the National Centre for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA) suggest that GIS technology privileges ‘particular conceptions and forms of knowledge, knowing, and language’ and that the historical development of the technology leads to ‘differential levels of access to information’ (Mark et al., no date). Rundstrom (1995) further suggests that GIS is incompatible with indigenous knowledge systems and separates the community that has knowledge from information (the ‘product’ of
GIS application). Tensions thus exist between new patterns of empowerment yielded through SIT and broader social, political, economic, and ethical ramifications of the

We submit that the tools, families of technologies, and practices associated with SIT use are value-laden and that deploying SIT will necessarily have ethical consequences. That is, the deployment of SIT will affect the constellations of values that distinctively shape any given society, its spatial practices, and its approach to reconciling conflicts or disharmony among competing goods or interests. We further submit that because the tools and technological families gathered under the rubric of SIT were not originally developed and produced in rural communities or among indigenous peoples in Asia, it will be in such settings that the tensions associated with SIT and its ironic effects are likely to be most apparent and potentially
profound. To date, most research on the social and ethical implications of spatial information technology has been conducted in North America (Sieber 2000). Given the rapidity with which the use of SIT is becoming ‘necessary,’ there is an urgent need to examine the implications of this technology – especially in rural settings and in less developed countries, as well as among indigenous groups.

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Mapping Communities: Ethics, Values, Practice

by Jefferson Fox, Krisnawati Suryanata, and Peter Hershock (eds.)

Publisher: Honolulu: East-West Center
Publication Date: 2005
ISBN: 0-86638-201-1
Binding: paper
Pages: viii, 118
Price: FREE

Abstract:This book and the research project on which it is based emerged out of common and yet distinct concerns among the editors that spatial information technologies (SITs)—at least in certain contexts and at certain scales—can lead to consequences that raise important ethical questions. Three interrelated dimensions in which these consequences have manifested were identified: in conflicts correlated with changing patterns of spatial perceptions and values; in competition related to knowledge and claims of resources; and in relation to structural or organization stresses at the institution level. This book evinces the efforts of its editors to critically broaden reflection on such experiences and their implications for technology transfer and evaluation. The analysis of these phenomena is informed by studies in technology and society that examine the interplay between technological development and the social institutions that shape its further deployment. Furthermore, these issues were examined from a political ecology perspective that situates the proliferation of SITs in the context of economic and political liberalization that has brought an explosion of new property claims and protectionist strategies to forests and other environments, changing the very terms by which resources and environments are defined.

The papers in this book do not seek to discredit the use of spatial information technology in community-based management but, rather, seek to understand the social and ethical implications of this technology so that those who choose to use it to meet social objective scan do so wisely and with an understanding of the unintended consequences that may accompany its use. The goal is to enhance the knowledge of the scientific community regarding the ethical, organizational, and power implications of spatial information technology, as well as to provide social activists with criteria for deciding whether they want to use this technology in their fieldwork.

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