» Award-winning GIS program helps First Nation regain control over Haida Gwaii Ecotrust Canada
“Knowledge is power,” Sir Francis Bacon once wrote. And nobody knows that better than First Nations in British Columbia.

“Possession and control of cultural data translates into considerable political power, at both the negotiating table and in court,” writes Terry Tobias, author of Chief Kerry’s Moose, a mapping and research guidebook co-published by Ecotrust Canada.

In its Delgamuukw ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada defined Aboriginal title for the first time and recognized oral history as admissible evidence in court. One of the primary ways to record oral history is through maps.

Mapping has emerged as a common language bringing traditional knowledge and local values into the planning and resource management arena. In 2003, Ecotrust Canada partnered with the Council of the Haida Nation to launch the Haida Mapping Office, which is helping the Haida regain control over development in their territory. The project won an ESRI Special Achievement in GIS Award in 2004.

“It’s critical,” says Gerry Johnson, Forestry Program Manager for the Haida. “We just could not afford to lose Haida Mapping. It is our only digital source of information on land and water attributes and we are increasing our knowledge on a daily basis through field surveys.”

Through an upgrade of their capacity and technology, Haida survey crews now use satellite GPS (Globe Positioning System) devices and hand-held computers in the field to pinpoint and input the location of monumental cedars, culturally modified trees (CMTs) and other land values. In 2004, Haida Forest Guardians surveyed and identified 650 CMTs. Haida Mapping then used this data to analyze logging referrals. As a result, logging was completely or partially deferred in environmentally and culturally sensitive habitat. Haida Mapping is now helping to develop a 1,000-year plan to manage old growth cedars, which are required for Haida monumental art such as dugout canoes, totems and longhouses.

Haida Mapping was established at an opportune time, explains Johnson, because planning work and development referrals are growing exponentially on Haida Gwaii. The mapping office provides timely information and analysis to the Council of the Haida Nation, which approves logging plans and development applications. With its ability to collect, store and analyze incredible amounts of data, the mapping office allows the Haida to scrutinize industry activities like never before.

“Haida Mapping is definitely an empowerment tool,” says Johnson.