Sliammon First Nation Uses GIS to Map Traditional Values

Laura K. Roddan, Manager of Research & Development, and Arlene C. Harry, GIS Technician,
Sliammon Treaty Society, Powell River, Canada

(Photos: Arlene Harry, left. Laura Roddan, right)

The Sliammon First Nation has occupied its territory since time immemorial. Traditionally, we lived in harmony with the land and its abundance of resources from a time well before the introduction of non-Sliammon governments. Sliammon has been blessed with rich marine and forest ecosystems that have been provided by the creator. We maintain an inherent domain over our territory that is based on natural law. We are determined to take our rightful place in the management of lands and resources within all Sliammon lands. This includes current reserve lands as well as future treaty settlement lands and special management areas (comanagement lands).

The Indian Act has created a relationship of dependency between First Nations and the Federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. This dependency has permeated all areas of Sliammon First Nation and has worked to repress the development of institutional structures that reflect the unique needs for, and philosophies of, traditional First Nation's laws and governance. For Sliammon, land and resource management is one of the key areas impacted by the Indian Act and other federal and provincial policies and legislation that have effectively weakened traditional knowledge and culture in relation to lands and resources. Regaining management authority and the ability to generate revenue and employment opportunities from lands and resources within the territory represents the path to self-reliance for the Sliammon First Nation.

Our goal is to develop an institutional structure for land and resource management that effectively integrates traditional knowledge with scientific and technical knowledge. This will allow the Sliammon First Nation to implement sound principles of land and resource management that reflect the unique traditional relationship between Sliammon people and the land and marine resources of the territory. The development of this institutional structure for land and resource management will be challenged in phases and will reflect the increasing demands for land and resource management with the increasing land and resource base, which will be acquired through the British Columbia Treaty process. This institutional structure for land and resource management will grow into the future and play an integral role in planning sustainable development of our lands and resources.

Issues of cultural and environmental survival are driving the need to utilize appropriate technologies to focus on sustainable development and integrated resource planning. Integrated resource planning and environmental balancing have always been at the heart of First Nation's culture. Geographic information system technology provides an opportunity to apply a process of assembling information to make well-informed decisions around land and resource use. It is a practical tool to facilitate addressing complex and technical issues cost-effectively while supporting the advancement and parity of First Nation's people. For Sliammon, GIS technology will facilitate the attainment of our conservation mission.

Through the application of GIS technology, the Sliammon Treaty Society has completed traditional occupancy and use maps, which consolidate all research done on traditional use of lands and resources in the territory. One of the most important sources of information for these maps has been oral history interviews completed with Sliammon elders from 1970 through 1999. The Sliammon Treaty Society's traditional coordinator, Hew'kin (Joe) Mitchell, played a key role in carefully reviewing and guiding the involvement of the Sliammon elders in this important project.

The purpose of the Sliammon Traditional Use Study (TUS) was to create a comprehensive inventory of traditional occupancy and use of Sliammon lands and resources to support participation in the British Columbia Treaty process and the Crown Land referral process. I think it is important to point out that this was a very defined focus for the traditional occupancy and use research, but it fit within the broader goal of the Sliammon community-to document Sliammon history from the perspective of the Sliammon people. It is hoped that one day the Sliammon First Nation will have a cultural center to house all the information that was collected through this study. The information is invaluable for use in education curriculum for the local school district and in creating a sense of pride and cohesion in the Sliammon community.

The key objectives of the Traditional Use Study were to

-Research and map traditional occupancy and use of Sliammon lands and resources throughout the traditional territory.
-Establish the territorial boundary.
-Identify exclusive and shared areas of traditional occupancy and use within the territory.
-Create an inventory and atlas of traditional occupancy and use of lands and resources to support participation in the British Columbia Treaty process and Crown Lands referrals process.
-Develop capacity within Sliammon First Nation for research analysis, information management, GIS, and resource planning.

The guiding methodology for the TUS was participatory action research. Participatory action research enables a community to control the research process through participation in all phases of the research. In the preparatory phase, the focus was on the community organizing within Sliammon in order to increase the level of awareness of the TUS and increase community participation in the research process.

The second phase involved the collection of secondary information through libraries, museums, and provincial and federal archives. By this point there were quite a few community members who, as they became aware of the study and the information that we were interested in collecting, started pulling out from under their beds or the back of their cupboards boxes of photographs, old maps, and documentation. All the information collected was then analyzed and drafted into a preliminary overview report with a corresponding map. We used a 1:180,000-scale basemap of the whole territory. As anthropological records and archival documents were reviewed, any references to locations of village sites, campsites, legend sites, and hunting or fishing areas were marked on the basemap.

The third phase was the interview phase. Interviews were semistructured. Following a checklist of key questions around occupancy and use of lands and resources, interviews were held individually and in groups. Whenever possible, field visits were made to specific sites. All the research assistants were from the Sliammon community, and they were selected on the basis of their rapport with Sliammon elders and their knowledge of the Sliammon language. They were trained in techniques of collecting and compiling information. All interviews were recorded on audiocassette, and paper working maps of the traditional territory were used to mark down specific sites of traditional occupancy and use. Two rounds of interviews were completed. In the first round of interviews, the research assistants used a 1:180,000-scale basemap of the territory. However, many of the streams, bays, and islands that the elders remembered were not showing up at that scale. Therefore, in the second round of interviews, the research assistants used 1:20,000-scale TRIM sheets to record sites.

There were a number of difficulties encountered in mapping traditional use information including

1. Lack of Trust. At the beginning of the study there were a lot of elders who could not understand why we were so interested in talking about things that happened in the past. There were a lot of negative feelings around the past such as the residential school system, disease, racism, and a lack of pride in the culture. This problem required time and patience to share with the elders why this information was so important today and in the future to restore culture and protect lands and resources within the territory.

2. Inability to Relate to Maps. The researchers found that there were quite a few of the elders that were not comfortable working with maps. They could remember mountains, islands, and inlets-they knew exactly where they were if you went there in a boat or on foot-but on a map it just did not mean anything. That was a bit of a hurdle and has remained a limitation of the TUS information collected. Whenever possible, field visits were made during interviews; however, opportunities for making field visits were limited by our budget and also the physical health of many of the elders.

3. Developing Site Classifications. At the beginning of the study we were using a site-recording guide developed by the Ministry of Forests. These site classifications were too complicated, and we ended up customizing them to our own set of site classifications. It was really important for the site classifications to make sense to the research assistants because as they went through the interviews and marked sites on the maps, every type of activity had its own code. We could have saved a lot of time by developing our own site classifications from the start.

4. Site Specific Versus Polygon Information. We were getting a constant push from the Ministry of Forests and the traditional use program policy that information had to be specific points on a map. We went through this continual debate over whether traditional use information could be site specific. The elders maintained that traditional use was over broad areas such as watersheds and could not be site specific. In the end, we reached a compromise and mapped sites such as villages as points on the map, but other traditional uses of the land were mapped as polygons to indicate the holistic use of the land over broad areas.

The fourth phase of the Traditional Use Study involved interview translation and transcription. Each tape and corresponding transcription was labeled with the date of the interview and the name of the interviewee(s) and assigned a unique transcript/tape number. As each interview was transcribed it was passed on to the GIS technician to enter into the GIS.

During the fifth phase of the study, all the information from the interview transcripts and the paper working maps was analyzed and organized using the GIS. The GIS platform we work from is Macintosh and MapGrafix with FileMaker Pro database software. As each interview transcript was loaded into the database, it was assigned a corresponding database number with reference to the specific paper map used during the interview. Each paper map from each interview was then digitized, and each site was assigned a unique identification number (SFN001, SFN002, etc.) that was relational to the database. Each type of activity or site classification was created on a separate layer. For example, village sites, legend sites, mountain goat hunting sites, deer hunting sites, butter clam harvest sites, and oyster harvest sites are each on a different layer. Therefore, we can search for locations of specific traditional use activities or view them all together depending on the purpose for the map.

In general, the traditional occupancy and use maps that have been created are useful on a daily basis. The maps have been shared with the local school district, and the information is being incorporated into the local school curriculum. The maps are supporting participation in the British Columbia Treaty process and the Crown Land referrals process in the following important ways:
-Established Sliammon occupancy and use of lands and resources throughout the traditional territory
-Assisted in developing a ratification process through community involvement in the research process
-Contributed to developing capacity within Sliammon through on-the-job training for research, analysis, resource planning, and GIS
-Facilitated the development of cooperative working relationships and cross-cultural understanding between Sliammon, the province, and local industry
-Provided a vehicle for the Sliammon First Nation, Sunshine Coast
-Forest District, and local forest industries to develop procedures for incorporating traditional use information into forest planning
-Encouraged joint planning efforts between the Sliammon First Nation
-and British Columbia-Negotiations are under way for comanagement agreements in several key watersheds.


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Compilation & web design: Charles Convis, ESRI Conservation Program, December 7, 2000