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A Proceedings Report (2018)

The Gathering provided many informative presentations and fruitful discussions among attendees, which are captured in the report, and from which the following outcomes were achieved:

Consensus on the need for Pacific region fisheries policy reform

There was a unified recognition that the current policy is not working to sustain fisheries and fishing communities for current and future generations, and policy reform is urgently needed.

Consensus on the request to be made to the federal Minister for a policy review

The Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, needs to perform an independent review of BC commercial fisheries licensing policy, built on a fully transparent and truly inclusive process, to:

  • Ensure fisheries licensing policy in the Pacific region supports independent fish harvesters, First Nations, and the revival of rural fishing communities, and
  • Determine how “social, economic, and cultural” objectives are to be achieved in Pacific region fisheries.

There was also agreement in the room that the law, policy and regulations need to ensure that ecological integrity is restored and maintained.

Agreement on the need for guiding principles for policy reform

  • Ensure social, cultural, economic and ecological wellbeing for fish harvesters, First Nations, and rural coastal communities
  • Establish local, decentralized, and inclusive governance and fisheries management, and more local, transparent ownership of fisheries access
  • Protect the independence of active fishermen
  • Rebuild and protect fish stocks for current and future generations
  • Prioritize First Nations reconciliation
  • Quantify – tell the “truth” – of the real cost of the privatization of fisheries
  • Build a healthy fishing industry that can support the next generation of harvesters – particularly youth – and enable older fish harvesters to retire, with dignity
  • Provide fairness for impacted parties in any licensing transition

These principles can also be seen as the foundation for the vision for BC fisheries, as they reflect the outcomes that participants want to see from policy reform, not just the guiding themes for the reform process.

Attendees also called for official recognition of the negative impacts that have arisen from the current policy, an immediate stop to current policy practices related to license and quota sales to non-fishing entities, and, the need for urgency – a review should be done within 6 months.


The purpose of this report is to provide detailed, up-to-date information on the wide selection of software tools currently available to First Nations. The referral process in the Province of British Columbia has developed as a result of court cases that found that the Provincial and Federal Crown have a legal duty to consult and, where necessary, accommodate First Nations when development activities are being carried out within their traditional territories. The referral process is triggered anytime the Crown is about to make a decision which may impact Aboriginal rights. This has resulted in an inundation of almost daily referrals upon sometimes small First Nations with limited staff and resources. Organizing, prioritizing, analyzing and responding to referrals in a meaningful and effective way has proven to be a major logistical and administrative challenge for Nations today.

To assist First Nations in meeting this challenge, several referrals management software tools and solutions have been developed, and over the last decade a competitive market for such products has emerged. Understanding and keeping up to date with all of the different software tools and solutions available to First Nations is difficult, as is making decisions about how to best manage referrals.

In an effort to provide the most relevant and up to date information on referrals management software tools available to First Nations today, we reached out to both software providers and users in British Columbia. Referrals management software tools are highly customizable and include value added services which complement each system, as well as constant updates making any static documentation or review of the software quickly obsolete. Further, because each situation is unique, our own experiences using the systems may not reflect those of First Nations. We encourage any Nation looking for referrals management software solutions to use this report simply as an introduction and starting point for the options available, and to reach out to software providers directly to better understand how they can support them in their particular situation.

The Software Providers

  • Referral Tracking System (RTS)
  • Cedarbox
  • StoloConnect
  • Stewardship Planning Portal
  • Lightship (Formerly Lightship Labs)
  • Community KnowledgeKeeper (CKK)
  • Louis Toolkit
  • Trailmark

Main Challenges of Referrals departments

  • Finding, training, and retaining referrals management staff, particularly those with GIS experience or other technical expertise, seemed to be a major challenge for First Nations
  • Data entry was one of the most difficult aspects of managing referrals, regardless of which or whether a software was being used
  • Training staff on software almost always seemed to be a challenge, and there is always a long learning curve
  • A lack of funding for managing referrals and paying for software
  • Constant updates to software can require re-training on the same system, or the modification of a feature that was previously used
  • As with any technology, there are always bugs that need to be fixed
  • Troubleshooting software can become costly in terms of both time and resources

Benefits of Referrals Management Software Systems

  • Proponents can enter their own data into the system, saving time for the First Nation
  • Built in mapping means non-GIS staff can conduct simple spatial analyses
  • Ability to carry out cumulative impact analyses in ways that were not possible before
  • Streamline the referrals process and centralize all data into a web accessible system
  • Integration of traditional use studies and other field data into referrals assessments
  • Simplified tracking of referrals and comments
  • Software updates can provide new helpful features

Other Important Themes

  • Focusing on engagement with proponents rather than the referrals process itself can be a better way to achieve desirable results for the First Nation
  • Having community liaisons or cultural monitors on staff is an important way of engaging communities in the consultation process and ‘ground truthing’ impacts
  • Multiple Nations using the same system and/or process means collaborative troubleshooting and joint improvements to the software, and can result in lower costs
  • Funding for referrals can be received from the government regulators through which the referral is sent (i.e. provincial ministry) or from industry
  • Funding which comes directly through engagement with proponents is often the most valuable

The Referrals Dilemma

Our conversations with referrals staff across BC revealed that there are a wide variety of processes and systems being utilized to manage referrals. Many Nations are striving to catalogue, analyze and respond to every referral, while others are filtering through the often endless flow of referrals and prioritizing responses and engagement to those that seem to be the most impactful on their interests. We also found that there is a great difference not only in the approaches that First Nations take to manage referrals, but also in the amount of time and resources given to the referral process. Some of the staff that we interviewed see the management of referrals, including detailed responses to each application, as an exercise of the Nation’s rights and as an important legal paper trail for potential future conflicts or ongoing negotiations. For many First Nations, effective referrals management means greater assertion of guardianship over their territory, and as a way for the Nation to have independent, critical and in-depth understandings of the cumulative impacts of activities within their territories. Others see the referrals process as reactive and ineffective in exercising the rights of the Nation, and an overwhelming and burdensome process that takes time and resources away from more meaningful engagement with industry.

The underlying issues and varying opinions about the referrals process indicate the need for a significant improvement in the way in which industry and government interact with First Nation Groups. Having a practical and effective system in place for managing referrals, such as one of the software tools described herein, can and will continue to play an important role in supporting First Nations Groups in asserting increased sovereignty over their territories and resources.


For those of us living in the Lower Mainland, a lot of the resource extraction in BC has been ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Our hope is that this atlas will help people better understand the true scale of changes to our province’s landscapes, and their impacts on rural communities and First Nations like Blueberry River.

The 2016 Atlas shows that the Province of BC has not only continued industrial development in the area, but has done so at an accelerated rate, despite its knowledge of the worsening cumulative effects on BRFN traditional territory. Our goal in helping to put it together was to help the Blueberry River First Nation convey the sense of urgency they feel about protecting their treaty rights, which are currently under threat from exploration and exploitation in their traditional territory.

The Atlas was commissioned by Blueberry River First Nations and David Suzuki Foundation and authored by Ecotrust Canada.


Selected Key Findings:


While 60% of BC is considered intact forest landscape (shown in green), Blueberry River’s traditional territory is only 14% intact.



Of the total area in BC reserved for pipelines via tenures, 46% falls within Blueberry River’s territory (shown as red and gray lines).



Active oil and gas tenures (shown in red) cover nearly 70% of the territory.



The 2016 Atlas builds upon a previous 2012study of cumulative effects in the Peace Region whichrevealed a stark picture of the scale and rate of industrial impacts on the natural landscape of the area. The province has been made aware of these disturbances many times over the last few years, including through the filing of a court case by BRFN against the Province of BC which cites the continued destruction of BRFN lands.

This legal battle is one example among many of the lingering disconnect between government and First Nations. Our hope is that by making information more transparent and accessible, First Nations can better pursue their treaty rights and decision-makers can reach more equitable solutions for all.


Perhaps that last one isn’t a classic combination – yet. But it’s not for lack of effort. Data scientists and designers are embracing the happy marriage of these two disciplines, and the results are bringing greater understanding to the world around us.

Data visualization is the reinterpretation of numbers and facts in ways that are appealing and accessible to all. It throws an artistic light on rigid science, translating cold, hard, data in terms that everyone can understand and appreciate. Throw in some online wizardry and you’ve got charts and maps that come alive, inviting you to explore otherwise unappealing information.

At Ecotrust Canada, we’ve embraced data visualization wholeheartedly. From our mapping roots to newer web technologies, we’re exploring ways to make information accessible and understandable to the people who need it most.

data banner

Click to visit data.ecotrust.ca


Interactive Visualizations

We launched data.ecotrust.ca in 2014 as a hub for some of our favourite data visualizations. Using open data sets from fisheries and forestry, we’re shedding light on fishing licence and forest tenure ownership, salmon harvests, cultural values, and more.

Our data site is also home to two interactive reports. In 2014 we released the interactive version of Understanding Values in Canada’s North Pacific, which examined the values supported by the commercial fishing industry beyond mere dollars and cents. In 2015 we released Caught Up in Catch Shares, a look at the changes brought about by the introduction of fishery quotas and other privatization schemes. Both combine narrative, photography, and compelling data visualizations to tell their stories.



Since our inception, we have been lending our mapping expertise to First Nations conducting traditional land use and occupancy mapping projects. In recent years, we have also mapped forestry tenures, fisheries management, potential impacts of oil and gas pipelines, landscape management plans, and more.

Venturing online, our team has also embraced interactive data visualization through several mapping portals:

Interactive or static, online or in print, the act of mapping puts people’s stories on the landscapes to which they are so irrevocably tied – a true intertwining of people and place.


Graphs and Illustrations

For all the glitz and flash of the digital world, we’re happy to report that good old print media has not been forgotten. We bring the same design principles – grounded in our in-depth knowledge of the subject at hand – to static graphs and illustrations, lending insight and clarity to complex data.

Regardless of medium, we strive to tell a visual story tailored to our audience. As wonderful as spreadsheets are, we do what we can to make data useful and inviting, illuminating otherwise-hidden patterns and insights.

During interviews, elders and other community members locate and describe their important places. Each community member’s sites are documented on a biography map to show their relationship with the land. These individual biography maps are then joined into a community map known as a hodgepodge map.

Hodgepodge maps provide at a glance, a sense of the community’s overall patterns of use and occupancy, while at the same time protecting the information of each individual. Hodgepodge maps can also be created for themes, such as plant gathering or hunting sites, and used for presentation purposes and resource management planning.


Cumulative Effects Assessments

These studies identify the changes to environmental, social, cultural, and economic values – including Aboriginal rights and title – created by the combination of past, present, and future events. Instead of analyzing all possible changes to the landscape, these assessments focus on the issues most likely to be affected by a proposed development.

In BC, a Cumulative Effects Assessment is required as part of an environmental assessment. The cumulative effects assessment considers values that stakeholders – both First Nations and industry – identify as being important that could be affected by the proposed development. These values can be from the natural or human environments, with scientific, ecological, economic, social, cultural, archeological, or historical importance.


Case Study

When Kinder Morgan Canada proposed their Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP), one BC First Nation was asked to inform Kinder Morgan of the potential impacts of their work. Since the proposed pipeline would intersect their traditional territory, this Nation had to document its past and present land-use practices in order to assess the potential impact of the TMEP on their environmental, social, cultural and economic assets and values. Through this work, the Nation hoped to:

  • Preserve the knowledge of the Nation’s elders
  • Inform and advise industry of historical and current uses of the Nation’s land, and
  • Document the TMEP’s effects in combination with other past, present, and future events

The Nation asked Ecotrust Canada to support them in this process by conducting both a Traditional Land-Use and Occupancy Study and a Cumulative Effects Assessment. Our shared goals were to:

  • Develop methods that would allow the Nation to gather information from as many members as possible within a limited timeframe and budget; and
  • Ensure that the Nation could effectively communicate the events that have affected their pre-European way of life, particularly in relation to terrestrial, aquatic, and cultural resources


Study Design

In partnership with the Nation, Ecotrust Canada designed a three-phase study:

  • A Traditional Land-Use and Occupancy Study with more than 25 Elders, aged 55 and older
  • A Traditional Land-Use and Occupancy Study with more than 25 members, aged 30-54
  • A focus group interview with more than 10 members that informed the Cumulative Effects Assessment

The Land-Use and Occupancy questionnaires were collaboratively designed to capture information on the Nation’s terrestrial, aquatic, and cultural resources across 7 broad categories: animal kill sites, earth material collecting sites, fixed cultural sites, overnight sites, plant and wood collecting sites, trapping sites, and travel routes.

The Cumulative Effects Assessment we conducted drew on discussions with a focus group from the Nation, as well as a number of secondary sources, such as Kinder Morgan Canada’s Cumulative Effect Assessment, ethnographic accounts, archeological studies, oral testimonies, and technical studies pertaining to the Nation’s traditional territory. The assessment helped to clarify and illuminate the systematic way in which cultural identity and land use have been eroded over time through a combination of factors, both natural and imposed.



Traditional Land-Use and Occupancy Study participants identified more than 2,000 sites within their traditional territory traditional territory. Nearly 10% of these sites were within the 150 meter wide TMEP corridor, and more than 30% were located within 500 meters of the corridor’s boundary. Almost 30 travel routes intersected the TMEP corridor, showing how the corridor could potentially limit or alter access and use of the sites.

The Cumulative Effects Assessment described the ways in which this Nation’s use of their traditional territories had been eroded over time by a number of factors and events, including:

  • The 1782 smallpox epidemic
  • The 1858 Fraser River gold rush
  • The 1884 potlatch law
  • The 1888 BC fisheries regulations that prohibited indigenous fishing for commercial use
  • The residential school system
  • The construction of the pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby in 1953
  • Possible impacts of Kinder Morgan Canada’s proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project

The Nation submitted the final report, including all theme and hodgepodge maps, analyses, and interview excerpts, to the National Energy Board in May 2015. The report illustrated how the TMEP, in combination with the lingering effects of historical events, would significantly increase pressures on the Nation and harm their ability to exercise their Aboriginal rights and title.

The combination of the Traditional Land-Use and Occupancy Study and the Cumulative Effects Assessment supported the Nation in clearly and effectively informing Kinder Morgan Canada of the potential impacts of their proposed developments. This project also helped reintroduce the Nation’s younger generation to their heritage as the Nation’s elders shared stories about their culture, traditions, relationship with the land, and ancestors’ daily lives prior to European contact, preserving this knowledge for generations to come.

Although this is a common story on BC’s coast, hope still lives—in each coastal town, there remains a desire for sustainable fisheries to rejuvenate the local industry.

Since the 1980s, BC’s commercial fleet has shrunk by more than 60%. Fishermen have retired with no one to replace them. As the industry fades away, First Nations and other coastal communities are struggling with the economic ripple effects.

Individual transferable quotas (ITQs) and other forms of catch shares first became popular as a management tool for Canadian fisheries in the 1990s. Since then, as they have been used in more and more fisheries, BC has been held up as the golden child of catch shares—proof that the system works.

But does it? With a shrinking industry and increasing poverty in so many coastal communities, does catch share management really work as advertised?

A Rising Tide /

Riding a surge of popularity since the 1980s, catch shares have gone into effect in 500 fisheries in 40 countries. In recent years, however, many of the earliest catch share systems have begun to show their age, developing serious problems with major repercussions for small-scale fishermen and fishing communities.

Almost every BC fishery is subject to a Total Allowable Catch (TAC), a maximum harvest that is set using scientific data. TACs limit fishing operations, ensuring that enough fish are left each season to reproduce and maintain population levels.

In competitive fisheries, all licence holders enjoy the same access. DFO sets a fleetwide TAC (represented here by the oval), and all licence holders compete for fish until that TAC is reached. The fishery then closes to prevent overfishing.

The fishery may have other restrictions to protect fish stocks and habitats, including gear types, season openings and closures, and fishing locations.

Under catch shares, each TAC is divided into individual quotas. Fishermen may only catch as much fish as their quota allows. If they want to fish more or if they catch more than their quota, they need to find more quota to cover that catch. The cost of buying or leasing that quota, however, can make or break the season.

More than half of BC’s commercial fisheries are now managed under catch shares. But how have catch shares affected the people whose livelihoods depend on fishing?

One Size Fits Few /

Supply and Demand

Under DFO regulations, quota can be bought and sold by anyone – including people and corporations that do not fish – on the open market. But because fisheries managers raise and lower the TAC to balance economic and cultural interests with the need to protect fish stocks, these TACs are often unstable.

Supply and demand have driven prices ever higher, trapping fishermen trying to stay in business. In-season changes are just as tough: if a fisherman catches more fish than his quota covers, he must quickly secure access to additional quota or risk penalties – making him more susceptible to price inflation or predatory lending.

ITQs were introduced in the halibut fishery in 1991. Twenty-four years later, quota prices continue to rise with no sign of stopping. In 2008, DFO assessed the potential impacts of reducing the commercial TAC. The prediction was that even with a further-limited commercial fishery, the price of halibut quota would soon level out and begin to decline. Instead, the price of halibut quota has nearly doubled – from $38 per pound to more than $71 just 5 years later.

The Money Pit

A common catch share myth suggests that quotas reduce capitalization in fisheries by allowing even the most poorly-equipped boats to compete with vessels sporting the latest and greatest gear. And to some extent that’s true; the race to buy the best vessels has indeed diminished. But in its place has come competition over access, where fishermen must sink their money into ever-increasing quota purchase and lease prices.

And these investments can take decades to pay off; when compared to income, licence and quota costs are disproportionately high.

The large gap between costs and earnings places a huge burden on small-scale fishermen already in the industry looking to maintain or expand their ability to fish – and it’s downright prohibitive for the next generation looking to start their careers.

So where do fishermen go if they can’t afford to buy licences or quota?

They lease. Many retired fishermen who were gifted quota in the initial switchover to catch shares have kept their quota to lease to new fishermen or processors. Corporations and processors with deep pockets have also purchased quota in order to re-lease to fishermen.

This leasing does not come cheap. Just as quota purchase prices have risen, so too have quota lease prices.

What Floats Your Boat

Fishermen are entrepreneurs, running small businesses on the sea. And as with any small business, there are many costs to consider. When lease prices climb, fishermen spend their money on lease fees rather than maintenance, food, and insurance. Fluctuating seafood prices, fuel prices, foreign exchange rates, mid-season closures, and other factors can throw a serious wrench in the already-delicate works. Because the flow of income only begins when a fish is landed at the dock, it is the fisherman who assumes all of the financial risk.

“The [people] who first get these quotas gifted [from DFO] are the winners. Every cycle of new buyers in, it gets costlier and costlier, and less and less. And then slowly, individuals don’t buy, corporations buy. So there are zero new entrants as we move into more and more ITQ fisheries.”

Nearly one third of the halibut fleet focuses exclusively on halibut. Many of these single-licence vessels own the quota they fish, allowing them to at least break even. In rare cases they may even be profitable. But what happens when the next generation of fishermen enters the industry? If they can’t afford the nearly $1 million required to purchase a licence and the median amount of quota, they are forced to lease.

Leasing places a major burden on crews and skippers, turning fishermen into sharecroppers on their own boats. And it can carry additional financial risk: many fish companies lease their quota to fishermen under the condition that the fishermen sell them any fish they catch – at prices set by the company. This turns fishermen into “price takers,” removing their ability to negotiate prices or take advantage of market spikes.

“You used to be able to start as a crewman, because if you got a job on halibut you could make some pretty good money, but that’s changed now because you’ve got to help the skipper pay for a leased quota.

I get a young crewman, he can work on the deck, sure, but can he make enough money on this boat to buy quota? I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

Ripple Effects /

Safety at Sea

Under a catch share system, what little income was once earned by crew members is now required for quota. Forced to cut costs, a fisherman faces hard choices about the amount of money he can afford to spend insuring and maintaining his boat and gear. No small wonder that the incidence of injuries and fatalities at sea has more than doubled in the last 20 years.

Catch shares are frequently touted for their contributions to safety because they prevent the “race for fish” that can send desperate crews into bad weather, hoping to catch fish before a fishery closes. In a dangerous twist, however, catch shares are now causing poorly maintained vessels to venture out into rough conditions to take advantage of fleeting spikes in market prices. It has replaced the race for fish with a race for wealth.

The shrinking fleet size has had other unforeseen consequences for safety at sea as well:

“It’s quite rare to see another boat out there now, whereas we would have been probably in sight of 2 or 3 [boats] even 10 or 15 years ago. And that’s a real point; it’s really reduced the vessels that can help each other, which is where most of the aid for fishermen comes from. The Coast Guard comes in extreme cases but most of it’s handled within the fishing fleet when a guy needs help.”

Shrinking Fleets, Shuttered Communities

As quota is consolidated into fewer hands and commercial fishing becomes financially untenable for many fishermen, the number of vessels that can afford to participate in the fishery declines.

When fishermen retire or move out of the industry, they often sell their vessels, licences, and quota. Some have been bought back by DFO for redistribution to First Nations; others have been sold to the highest bidder.

“When it comes to the ownership [of licences and quota], we have had it stolen from these communities, from the individuals that live in these communities and it’s going to continue to be stolen in the name of consolidation.”

Various forms of commercial fishing have supported BC’s coastal communities for thousands of years. But with licences and quota being bought up by fish companies and deep-pocketed individuals, that revenue stream is being lost. Reduced access to fish has led to loss of fisheries infrastructure, further shrinking both local fleets and communities. Coastal communities used to benefit from their adjacent resources. Today just about every fishing community is experiencing declining populations, increased unemployment, and shuttered storefronts.

This loss of local industry hits rural coastal communities hard. According to BC Stats, every thousand dollars that fishermen spend in their home communities generates $1,490 of local income, $550 in local GDP, and $130 in government tax revenues. For every million  dollars spent, 3.69 local jobs are created.

The Future of Fisheries in BC /

Despite the apparently gloomy outlook for BC’s commercial fisheries, there remains a great deal of hope among fishermen and fishing communities – and rightfully so:

  • Fishing is one of BC’s most environmentally sustainable resource-based industries
  • There is high consumer demand for seafood
  • Fishing supports regional food security
  • Commercial fishing is vital to economies in coastal communities

We must ask ourselves how commercial fishing’s $300 million in annual landed value should be distributed. Will there be a thriving small boat fleet or will we settle for a few massive vessels? What place will fishermen and coastal communities will hold in BC’s future?



The goal of the AMN is to facilitate the networking of First Nation and Indigenous mappers and to address current issues relevant to Aboriginal mapping. It does this by providing access to a collection of resources that will give answers to common questions regarding mapping, information management, GIS and other technical issues, as well as publishing best practices on these. In building this network, a venue has been created where people can share experiences, information and ideas, thus promoting communication and enhancing community work. By teaming innovation and technology with community vitality, bridging hierarchical gaps between decision makers, technicians and communities, the AMN assists people to use GIS as a tool to assert Aboriginal Rights and Title.

The beginning

Established in 1998 as a non-profit, joint initiative of the Gitxsan and Ahousaht First Nations and Ecotrust Canada, the AMN began life as a simple knowledge sharing forum for local First Nations technicians, leaders and decision makers. It has since become a valuable strategic resource for practitioners of traditional knowledge mapping around the world.

How it works

Acting as a virtual library service, the AMN aids in effective information management, GIS, resource management and environmental planning by providing a forum to diversify knowledge base and learn from others facing similar issues.

Content and direction of the AMN is decided by First Nation committees and through website feedback. Ecotrust Canada takes responsibility for maintaining the website, co-hosting workshops, facilitating publications, and assisting with fundraising.

The AMN supports four main areas of activity:

An AMN website

A dynamic, interactive website, nativemaps.org hosts a wealth of information where mappers can find information that includes: data sources; training resources; funding; and relevant, timely news stories.

International conferencing & workshops

The agendas for mapping and GIS conferences are usually set by industry or government, rarely addressing issues from a local perspective. To help change this, the AMN is committed to periodically hosting an international conference, where First Nations present mapping issues and oversee planning. The AMN also hosts informal workshops on common themes that surface from website feedback and direct discussions with First Nations and GIS technicians. Examples include:

  • Moving Traditional Use Study Information Into a GIS: Challenges and Methods, co-hosted with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation;
  • Crown Land Referrals: A First Nations’ Approach, co-hosted with the Sliammon First Nation;
  • Provincial Data for Landscape Analysis: Limitations and Applications, co-hosted with the Heiltsuk Nation.


The AMN partners with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs to co-produce a publication series relating to cultural mapping and land use and occupancy research. This has led to dozens of useful publications, including:

  • Living Proof: The Essential Data-Collection Guide for Indigenous Use-and-Occupancy Map Surveys, Terry N. Tobias;
  • Chief Kerry’s Moose: A Guidebook to Land Use and Occupancy Mapping, Research Design and Data Collection, Terry N. Tobias
  • A Voice on the Land: An Indigenous Peoples’ Guide to Forest Certification in Canada, Russell Collier, Ben Parfitt and Donovan Woollard.
  • A New Trail—a funding guide written to help First Nations finance their GIS and planning activities.

Access to tools

The AMN gives users access to a number of tools, developed in partnership with members, to help inform decision making on land and water use, and help users respond more effectively to third party land development referrals. Examples include Living Atlas and Terratruth.


An interactive thematic atlas focused on the changing geography of a place over time, the Living Atlas is an online mapping tool which allows users to view spatial data and multimedia information related to a community or region without the high cost of commercial software or training.

Living Atlas aims to help communities understand, for instance, how climate change may affect them; how land use changes have impacted the environment; which areas have been logged in the past 40 years; or how human/wildlife interactions have changed. Developed by Ecotrust Canada’s Knowledge Systems & Planning (KS&P) team, in partnership with the Central Region Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations and the Okanagan Nation Alliance, the Living Atlas was successfully deployed in 2010. It has since been customized for Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in Clayoquot Sound (livingatlas.org) and for the Okanagan Nation Alliance (voicesontheland.org).


The goal is to bring together information, projects and ideas from a region in a single location, and provide a means to view this information over time (using a simple time scale slide). Acting as a data repository for information, it allows decision makers and the public to interact with information on different scales, addressing the need to have some information accessible at the watershed level, and some at the localized level. More than this, the Living Atlas supports an appreciation and understanding of the concept ‘everything is one and all is interconnected’. This appreciation is achieved by tracking specific knowledge themes over time through different voices and information types.

How it works

Knowledge is power. How we use that knowledge, however, is key: effective decision-making requires the ability to manage vast amounts of information and data. The Living Atlas gives users this ability.

A technically advanced yet user-friendly web-based mapping tool, the Living Atlas allows people to easily access, and understand, complex data from a variety of government, academic and community sources. This makes it ideal for both educational and community planning use. Features include:

  • A ‘time slider’ tool, displaying data chronology. This gives users a view of changes to a region over time – they can even look into the future to see projected changes, such as temperature and rainfall;
  • Data grouped by theme;
  • Multimedia content – a place to store and share cultural data, such as photos, videos, stories, traditional place names and historical documents.

The technology

All components are built with open source software to ensure low development and implementation costs. Open source software is computer software that is available in source code form for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that permits users to study, change and improve the software. Open source software used in the Living Atlas includes:

  • Django Web Development Framework
  • OpenLayers – a Javascript library for displaying map data in web browsers
  • Postgres/PostGIS relational database
  • MapServer – Spatial data visualization
  • jQuery

Future projects

We are working to upgrade and enhance the existing system to make further use of Living Atlas:

  • First Nations Technology Council (FNTC) The FNTC has commissioned Ecotrust Canada to enhance Living Atlas to meet requirements for future installation in more First Nations communities. This as part of the effort  to improve decision-support and innovative land use planning tools.
  • First Nations Health Atlas In partnership with the FNTC, work has begun on the creation of the Online First Nations Health Atlas, to be used by all 203 First Nation bands in BC and a wide range of health practitioners and analysts. This project comes at a time when First Nations are taking control of health data and services.


Current partners include: Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations; Okanagan Nation Alliance; as well as other First Nations, communities, municipalities and schools.


The Living Atlas was co-funded by Geoconnections Canada, Ecotrust Canada, The Clayoquot Central Region Board, RBC Foundation, Marisla Foundation, and an anonymous foundation. Graphic design was done by Skipp Design.

Terratruth is an online tool that supports Indigenous communities in their efforts to track and evaluate the impacts of proposed land and water use in their territories. This secure site has controlled access to prevent unauthorized viewing and use of sensitive local knowledge.

Developed by Ecotrust Canada’s Knowledge Systems team, the first phase of this tool was developed in partnership with the Lil’wat and Haida Nations, and partially funded by GeoConnections Canada. Additional enhancements were funded by the Okanagan Nation Alliance.

Objective /

Terratruth supports communities in making decisions around land and water use by enabling information sharing related to their territories. The tool is easily accessible by multiple non-technical users in standard web browsers.

How it works /

Formerly known as the AMN Decision Support System, Terratruth is a data-driven tool, providing users with the means to assess the impact of a proposed land use activity using existing data in their region/territory. This is done using one of the following methods:

  • creating the shape by manually drawing it in the application;
  • uploading an existing shape (in ESRI format); or
  • uploading a scanned image, geo-referencing/rectifying that image, then manually digitizing the shape.

Once a shape has been created, it is shown on a map alongside existing data. An automatic report can calculate the exact amount of area that is impacted, based on customized questions corresponding to each data layer. The results can be used within an overall decision process to assess the value and/or impact of the proposed activity.

Terratruth requires user authentication for access to the site. This ensures all data and sensitive local information remains protected. Other features include:

  • Data encryption – Terratruth employs Secure Socket Layer (SSL) to encrypt data and provide communication security while online;
  • Customizable reporting;
  • Image rectification (i.e. rubber sheeting) – allows users to merge images taken from multiple perspectives into a common map coordinate system, particularly useful for including old, traditional maps in modern GIS format;
  • ESRI Shapefile upload or creation to
    spatially describe geometries;
  • Metadata management;
  • Place names and historical documents;
  • GIS shape export to Google Earth for further visualization.

The technology/

All components are built with open source software to ensure low development and implementation costs. Open source software is computer software available in source code form for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that permits users to study, change, and improve it.

Open source software used in Terratruth includes:

  • Django Web Development Framework
  • Postgres/PostGIS relational database
  • OpenLayers – a JavaScript library for displaying map data in web browsers
  • MapServer – Spatial data visualization
  • ExtJS – User interface widgets

Projects /

  • The Northeast Superior Forest Community in Ontario deployed Terratruth as part of their efforts to improve visualization of data, and support their alternative forest management processes.


The Skeena Watershed Initiative

The SWI is a collaborative planning process comprised of Fisheries & Oceans Canada, the Province of BC, First Nations, commercial and recreational harvest interests, watershed based conservation organizations and local governments involved in the conservation and management of Skeena salmonids and their habitat. The SWI works to support implementation of Canada’s Policy for the Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon, including the policy’s objective to maintain the integrity of the diverse freshwater, coastal and marine habitats upon which salmon depend. The SWI website is under development.


This project sought to compile information about sockeye salmon habitat in an accessible format, in order to
  • support the implementation of the Wild Salmon Policy by providing the best available information for decision making in watershed management;
  • inform and engage decision makers and the general public about sockeye habitat;
  • build a foundation of information, maps and data organization that can be expanded upon over time.
The final products of this project include:
Electronic versions of all products can be downloaded from links above, or obtained on DVD free of charge by emailing skeena@psf.ca.
If you would like more information about the project, or have information to add to future editions of these materials, please email skeena@psf.ca.