In the elaborate surrounds of the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, Thomas Berger referred on Thursday night to a “magnificent object” – but he wasn’t talking about a totem pole, a mask, or any of the other fine art exhibits on display.

Instead, Berger – a venerated former BC Supreme Court judge and a long-time champion of Indigenous people’s rights – pointed to a new book, Living Proof – The Essential Data Collection Guide for Indigenous Use and Occupancy Map Surveys, and told the audience that the work of Terry Tobias is a major contribution to Canada. Recalling that he grew up, as did generations of Canadians, being taught from atlases filled with maps of European origin that “obscured the lives of Aboriginal people and their occupation of the land,” Berger said that Living Proof “refutes those maps.”

The book, and the maps that it contains, is going to be of enormous significance in Canada’s claim to Arctic sovereignty, Berger said. And more broadly, use-and-occupancy mapping is a vindication of Aboriginal people’s traditions and their rights. “These are the facts on the ground,” Berger said.

It was fitting praise for a truly remarkable book – seven years in the making – that has been co-published by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Ecotrust Canada. Leah George-Wilson, speaking on behalf of the Union, praised the work of Tobias and Ecotrust Canada in aiding her community – the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation – to re-establish a strong presence on its traditional territory using high quality research and map products. Living Proof, she said, is an important tool for First Nations in articulating not just their traditions, but their visions of the future.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of UBCIC said in an earlier release that First Nations people are still being denied access to realizing the wealth and full utility of their traditional lands, “so it is vitally important to record the knowledge of those who have been out asserting their Aboriginal Rights on the ground. Living Proof is extremely valuable in helping us record knowledge in a way that can be used not only for its own sake, but also for negotiation concerning the recognition and reconciliation of our Indigenous land rights.”

Author Terry Tobias said that as much as $1-billion has been spent in the past four decades on mapping projects in Canada that have, for the most part, been methodologically flawed, and have produced poor outcomes for Indigenous people. The field of use-and-occupancy mapping has been in “serious disarray,” Tobias said. Greg Kehm, director of knowledge systems and planning for Ecotrust Canada, said the book stemmed from strong demand from Indigenous communities for a guidebook on how to do map surveys that will assist them in land claims and in negotiations with governments and industry. “We are seeing Indigenous communities around the world interested and excited by this book – from South America to Australia,” Kehm said.

Neil Ward, speaking on behalf of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in Australia, said at an earlier launch last week that use-and-occupancy mapping is fundamental to any attempt at reconciliation between Aboriginal people and non-Indigenous people. At last week’s launch, hosted by UBCIC, former Union vice-president Robert Shintah said, “A lot of our maps aren’t on paper, not even on buckskin like you see on the movies. They’re in the Earth.”

But there is widespread acknowledgement that getting Indigenous knowledge recorded properly is fundamentally important to improving social, economic and environmental outcomes for Aboriginal people around the world. Living Proof shows how it’s done.

– Ian Gill, President of Ecotrust Canada

To order a copy of Living Proof, click here or call 604-682-4141 ext. 221.