Mapping the unmappable in indigenous digital cartographies




Becker, Amy

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This thesis draws on a community-engaged digital-mapping project with the Vancouver Island Coast Salish community of the Stz’uminus First Nation. In this paper, I discuss the ways in which conventional cartographic representations of Indigenous peoples are laden with methodological and visual assumptions that position Indigenous peoples’ perspectives, stories, and experiences within test-, proof-, and boundary-driven legal and Eurocentric contexts. In contrast, I frame this project’s methodology and digital mapping tools as an effort to map a depth of place, the emotional, spiritual, experiential, and kin-based cultural context that is routinely glossed over in conventional mapping practices. I argue elders’ place-based stories, when recorded on video and embedded in a digital map, produce a space for the “unmappable,” that which cannot, or will not, be expressed within the constructs of a static two-dimensional map. This thesis also describes a refusal to steep maps too deeply in cultural context for a public audience. I detail the conversations that emerged in response to a set of deeply spiritual, cultural, and personal stories to mark how the presence of Coast Salish law, customs, power structures, varying intra-community perspectives, and refusal came to bear on the production of “blank space” (interpreted colonially and legally as terra nullius) in this project’s cartographic representation. Finally, I conclude that Coast Salish sharing customs are embedded within networks of Coast Salish customary legal traditions, which fundamentally affects tensions that arise between storytelling and digital mapping technologies, between academic and community accountabilities, and between collective and individual consent.



Coast Salish, Community-Based Research, Community-Based Research Ethics, Collective Consent, Cybercartography, Digital Mapping, Digital Video, Ethnographic Refusal, GIS, Google Maps, Indigenous Cartographies, Individual Consent, Story Maps, Traditional Knowledge, terra nullius, Community-Engaged Research