GIS, the Ifugao, and a Moose

by Russell Collier

She starts out by saying, "Go to the people with your GIS and see what happens". That was the first advice Rhodora M. Gonzalez got from Prof. Röling when he saw her proposal. She wanted to do research on indigenous knowledge in natural resource management and formalise it into a geographic information system for development planners. And thus begins the remarkable journey of Rhodora and the Ifugao people of the Phillipines as they explored participatory use and development of a GIS in joint-learning about the environment.

And thus also begins a remarkable book, entitled "Platforms and Terraces: Bridging participation and GIS in joint-learning for watershed management with the Ifugaos of the Phillipines" (ISBN 90-5808-246-6). The book is inspiring for its clarity, its inclusion of many maps, charts, and diagrams, as well as for its highly organized content. Rhodora Gonzalez engaged with the Ifugao in what she termed a "spatial dialogue" in order to elicit knowledge of their traditional agricultural practices, and then to design a geographical information system that worked for these people. She says, "The starting point in developing an information system is understanding the process it will strengthen". She also says that, in order to construct a model to understand how their traditional natural resource management works, it is crucial to involve the people in the design process, and it is crucial because it determines whose world view is served by the created information system.

The book is © 2000 Rhodora M. Gonzalez, and represents her thesis to fulfill the requirements for her doctoral degree. This is a book I urge GIS users and TEK researchers, aboriginal or not, to acquire, read and take heart from, if you can find it. Because it is a thesis book, no matter how good it is, and it is a very good book, it may be difficult to lay your hands on a copy.

All is not lost however! We have a new book available that is drawn from experience much closer to home, that is geared to helping us conduct our own credible research, and that can be downloaded from this very same site today!

He starts out by saying, "Aboriginal peoples in Canada have been mapping aspects of their cultures for more than a generation". The sidebar reads, "Think of it as the geography of oral tradition". This is a book written from "nearly two decades of experience designing land use and occupancy mapping projects, and working with indigenous peoples at the community level to collect the data they need".Written and © 2000 by Terry N. Tobias, he had one purpose in mind - create a practical guidebook, and make it relevant to Canadian Aboriginals. And he does that admirably. It's also good reading.

And thus begins another remarkable book, entitled, "Chief Kerry's Moose: A guidebook to land use and occupancy mapping, research design, and data collection" ISBN 1-896866-04-2. This book is inspiring for its clarity of writing as well - but drawing from examples much closer to home, often showing or naming people we recognise. This book strikes an immediate chord for those of us engaged in this kind of work.

Reading through the eight chapters, you can't help but notice Terry comes back to the same message, time and again: pay attention to methodology and detail. That's a good message. Provincial and Federal land use planners and decision makers are obligated to consult with First Nations in BC. They are not obligated to act on that consultation. Often, we hear our elders describe an area they remember so well, they could just about draw you a map. I've made a lot of maps, and so I can tell you from my own experience, it is easy to make a bad map. It is much more work to make a good map, and it takes a lot of really hard work to make an excellent map. This is a book that will help you capture that elder's map, and get it with such high quality standards, it will be much harder for people to ignore. Using this book, you will also find yourself connecting better with people in your own community, especially the elders, you will find yourself fascinated as your own rich history comes alive, and you will find yourself taking much well-earned pride in knowing you have done a good job and done it right!

The book is a joint publication of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Ecotrust Canada. You can find it on this site under the Publications section. It is about $15.00 to buy a full colour book, or you can download the file yourself for free in PDF format. It is well worth the time. Oh. Who is Chief Kerry and what does his moose have to do with anything? You'll just have to read the book and find out.