UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Mapping Identity Vice President Research and International, Office of the Nov 30, 2009

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10THe UnIVeRSITY OF BRITISH COlUMBIA • OFFICe OF THe VICe PReSIDenT ReSeARCH & InTeRnATIOnAl PReseRvINg INDIgeNous IDeNtIty Canada’s Indigenous communities have traditionally relied on oral history to pass along customs and traditions from one gen- eration to the next. However, in a modern society that is increasingly dependent on technology, oral traditions are in danger of being lost – and with them, the wisdom and culture of entire peoples. Yet according to Prof. John Corbett, Co-Director of the Centre for Social, Spatial and Economic Justice, modern technology – such as digital maps of traditional areas – can also help to maintain longstanding traditions. “Maps demonstrate very clearly the relationship an individual, and by default the entire community, has with a particular piece of land,” says Corbett, whose research has helped the Tlowitsis (tlow-EET-sis), a dispersed First Nation who historically lived on Turnour Island along the north coast of B.C., to rediscover their identity. The Tlowitsis began to disperse in 1962 when the provincial government discontinued educational and health care services to the island after 40 years. Working with the Tlowitsis, community members and graduate students, Corbett co- developed a “Virtual Land Tour,” a series of Web-based maps that have enabled the Tlowitsis to redefine and articulate their territory, shifting from a colonial definition of space to their own traditional perspective. “Between 1962 and 2005, essentially the Tlowitsis community was non-existent,” Corbett says. “For many people in the community, they have now gained a better understanding of self, how they fit into the Nation, who the Tlowitsis are and where they live.” Qualitative information has been also added to the digital maps to enhance a community perspective of the landscape. This may include video footage of elders speaking about the particular area, a photo montage and music. “When you put this information into the context of the Treaty process, this research becomes politically strong and has the ability to influence decision makers,” says Corbett. The Tlowitsis Nation, through the British Columbia Capacity Initiative, provided funding to support the development of the Virtual Land Tour. MAPPiNG iDeNTiTY


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