When Europeans came to the Americas, they renamed the rivers, lakes and mountains. Even First Nations found themselves with new names. Eeyouch became Crees. Kanienkehaka became Mohawks.
Now Native people are fighting to regain control of their lands, and one of their first battlefields is the map. They are mapping their ancestral territories and giving the land back its Native voice.
New technologies are playing an important role. Once used only by scientists and loggers, technologies like Geographic Information Systems are showing that maps and power go hand-in-hand.
The technology is being used to co-manage the land, says Steve DeRoy, coordinator of the Aboriginal Mapping Network, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based group that helps First Nations use mapping technology to advance rights.
The First Nations are saying, 'Hey, we can participate in the planning process from which we have been historically excluded.'
First Nations are using the mapping technology to strengthen their cases in court battles, land claims and development conflicts.
The process starts with the stories of elders, hunters and other community members who tell the oral history of how the First Nation has used the land.
The information is fed into a database, which is then overlaid on satellite-based maps to prove First Nations land use, protect cultural sites and build stronger claims.
The Aboriginal Mapping Network is one of the main groups helping First Nations use the new technology. It was created in 1998 by two British Columbia First Nations and Ecotrust Canada. The non-profit group operates an information-packed website with resources for the First Nations mapping community. The resources focus mostly on the B.C. coast, but the group has also helped First Nations across North America.
The network also puts out publications on mapping issues and holds workshops on topics like traditional-use surveys, how to analyze provincial data, website development and how to analyze development proposals.
The group's next big goal is a conference for the mapping community to network and learn from each other about preserving First Nations knowledge.
There are so many communities that are doing so many innovative things, says De Roy. They are showing that they have the technology and the know-how.