GIS, Some Coast Salish, and a Grilled Grouse

by Russell Collier

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of going to see three different Aboriginal GIS shops and talking with their technical people. The three First Nations' offices I visited were the Sto:Lo Nation, the Tsawassen, and the Tsleil Waututh, located, respectively, in Chilliwack, Delta, and North Vancouver. They are all different, and all three had interesting and exciting things to show off. Additionally, I had something to share back with them. But that's getting ahead of my story.

First stop was the Sto:Lo Nation office, where Leeanna Rhodes and Laura Brown welcomed us into their world with a cheery, non-stop chatter of excitement and interesting stories. Their office is part of a large, well-organised, well-funded government structure, and their work has truly benefited by it. For one thing, they have data - lots of it. For another, they are able to work within a larger vision, and have pretty much an open hand when it comes to fulfilling their piece of the vision.

One of their show-stoppers would have to be their cultural atlas. They have obviously poured heart and soul into getting this project finished. The atlas is being professionally published, incorporating numerous archival photos, charts and graphs, background text, and of course, beautiful maps. When this book comes out, be sure to stop by their office and ask to see the final product. It is impressive.

Also impressive is their grasp of Arc/INFO and Arcview mapping. These ladies know their stuff. I am sure anybody stopping by their place will learn something new and will take away an strong impression of just how good an aboriginal GIS office can be when properly supported.

Next stop was the Tsawassen GIS office, headed up by Andrew. He's a one-man GIS show all by himself. The Tsawassen GIS shop does not have the bells and whistles of the Sto:Lo shop, but it makes up for it in sheer ingenuity. People outside the lower mainland probably know Tsawassen as the site of one of the two big ferry ports in the big city. And this helps define the special characteristics that make the Tsawassen band unlike any other. For one thing, they are surrounded on three sides by Delta, a huge, multi-ethnic city suburb sprawl. For another they are hemmed in by the Pacific Ocean on the fourth side.

This Nation has to deal with a very hefty Urban Treaty orientation, and that has affected their GIS work. Andrew showed us mapping that hints at the complexities of marine resource pitted against city sprawl. Not easy. But a worthy challenge.

The Tsawassen have worked with UBC to develop a TUS MS-Access database that allows Tsawassen members to access their data from anywhere within their network, and query it. This group (and Andrew) is ample evidence that being an urban Nation with limited budget does not necessarily mean limited imagination or lack of inspiration. Andrew shows a hungry and opportunistic spirit in acquiring and using GIS technology. Thank you, Andrew. I'd happily geek with you any day of the week.

Next stop was the Tsleil Waututh GIS shop in North Vancouver. Actually, the tables were turned this day, as I was teaching an introductory session on using high-end desk-top publishing software to finish off GIS produced graphics. You see, the Tsleil Waututh have this Atlas. It's a Bioregional Atlas. Pioneered by Doug Aberly, the bioregional approach to mapping permits decision-makers to understand land usage across a sufficiently broad spectrum of land uses such that they get a reasonably full picture.

The Tsleil Waututh have had GIS guy Mike George working alongside Ecotrust's GIS guru gal, Leah McMillin to produce their Atlas. Leah has moved on to other futures in her hometown of Victoria, and the Tsleil Waututh have hired another GIS guru gal to help out - Siobhan Murphy (help me if I spelt your name wrong). It's pronounced phonetically as "shi VOHN" and it's as Irish as you get.

Mike and Siobhan have direction from the Tsleil Waututh leadership to explore producing their Atlas using in-house desktop publishing techniques and software. An atlas is expensive to produce at best of times, and anything that can be done in-house is worth exploring. I walked the group of us, Tsleil Waututh, Tsawassen, visiting Heiltsuk and Ecotrust GIS reps, through exporting graphic map images from ArcView into a variety of formats that a truly Canadian product, CorelDraw, can handle. And then I worked with the images to show text, photo, vector, bitmap, and database handling capabilities offered by that truly Canadian DTP product. The Tsleil Waututh Atlas project offers much promise and interest for some months to come.

So what about the Grilled Grouse? How does that fit in? I was hoping you'd ask. As a car-load of us headed off to Chilliwack and the Sto:Lo, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but alas, without breakfast, we became increasingly hungry. With a fine disregard for the many Ronald MacDonald and Tim Horton's Doughnuts places we passed, Ecotrust driver, David Carruthers insisted on driving as fast as possible by these abodes of dining splendour.

En route, to while away the hungry, hungry hours, we instead dwelt upon such possible road-kill delights as Pressed Porcupine, boiled Moose Nose, Diesel-Smoked Deer, and who could forget…Grilled Grouse. This last dish is particularly easy to prepare…it's where the Grouse flying across the road becomes embedded in your car Grill, and becomes both wind-dried and roasted in one simple step. Thank you David for finding a way for us to share so many great ideas for unusual but probably fulfilling breakfast ideas hour after hour after hour…next time, I think I'll bring a sandwich.

And if any of you out there have innovative breakfast ideas of your own, please feel free to share them with us here at the Aboriginal Mapping Network.