Ian Gill, Western Native News, November 2003

VANCOUVER-Gilbert H. Grosvenor of the National Geographic Society once wrote, "A map is the greatest of all epic poems. Its lines and colors show the realization of great dreams."

At Ecotrust Canada, we have a fondness for maps. Since our founding in 1994, we have been working with B.C. coastal First Nations on their epic poems. We have partnered with the very pioneers in mapping traditional resource use and occupancy of lands by First Nations.

Maps are also about power. "Possession and control of cultural data [from maps] translates into considerable political power, at both the negotiating table and in court," says Terry Tobias, in "Chief Kerry’s Moose", a mapping and research guidebook published by Ecotrust Canada and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a map is worth a thousand times a thousand words. In the Supreme Court’s Delgamuukw ruling, Aboriginal title was defined for the first time and oral history was given recognition as admissible evidence in court. One of the primary ways to record oral history is through maps. "Think of it as the geography of oral tradition," says Tobias.

Mapping has emerged as common language in bringing traditional knowledge and local values into the planning arena. All negotiations in land-use planning are being negotiated around maps. On November 20, indigenous peoples from across North America, and as far away as Panama and Malaysia, are gathering to discuss mapping at a conference of the Aboriginal Mapping Network (www.nativemaps.org) in Duncan, B.C. They will be sharing stories about empowerment through maps.

A simple map can be the first step in the transition from the old liquidation economy of resource extraction in B.C. By knowing our land and seas better, we’ll be better able to protect them and better able to harvest wealth in a way that won’t deplete the natural capital for future generations.

Maps help us find our way. They show us where we are, but also where we want to go. Ecotrust Canada has worked with a number of First Nations-the Heiltsuk, Ahousaht, Ucluelet, Haida and Tsleil-Waututh, among others-who have translated their traditional knowledge into cartographic form. The next step is to use these maps to transform their communities by growing what we call a conservation economy.

Green is more than just the colour of money. Ecotrust Canada believes that good business can be good for the environment too. Mapping is our starting point. From basic topographical and cultural maps grow land-use and coastal zone management plans, conservation-based development plans and eco-forestry strategies. Then we work with First Nations to provide technical assistance for marketing, business planning and management to launch new businesses. We even have a $3.5 million Natural Capital Fund from which we have made loans to Aboriginal entrepreneurs.

We have a vision of a new map. What will it show? For starters, it will depict robust and abundant wild salmon runs supporting coastal communities. There will be shellfish growing sites. There will be dozens of dots on the map where ecosystem-based forestry is practised. There will be lands and waters set aside for conservation. There will be tourist lodges and trails. There will be bustling Aboriginal communities. The map will be an epic poem written by First Nations and non-natives alike, and it will be a picture of an economy and a society that we’ll all be proud to live in.