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UBC Theses and Dissertations

First (National) space : (Ab)original (re)mappings of British Columbia Brealey, Kenneth G.


Before contact First Nations in what is now British Columbia were not mapmakers. Territory was demarcated experientially, by genealogy, oral narrative, ceremony, and the social arts. Since contact, however, and especially since the beginning of the comprehensive claims process in the early 1970s, First Nations have become mapmakers — not because they especially wanted to but because they had to. They have recognized that cartography — whether in court, at the treaty table, or for pedagogical purposes — is a way of validating Aboriginal title and rights. They have also recognized, however, that committing their geographies to maps is a risky endeavour. Much of what distinguishes First Nations' geographical space does not translate well in a cartographic register and Euro-Canadians generally lack the cultural equipment to interpret and evaluate what does. This dissertation tries to open a space where translation can occur. Drawing on both Native and ethnographic sources and guided by my experience and some of the postcolonial literature, I show that First Nations' maps are both a record of an encounter that has always turned on the ability of one side to dominate the representational terrain of the other and a window on a world that most non-Natives have hitherto apprehended only in the faintest outline. The questions raised by this dissertation, then, are of a theoretical sort, but the answers are matters of fact and future practice. Land claims, if they are about anything at all, are about the struggle over geography — both the terrestrial object, and the perspective through which that object is territorialized — for Aboriginal title and rights, if recognized by law, mean nothing without the territories to which they refer. At issue is not whether the 'map of First Nations' is more true than the 'map of British Columbia' — though I will defend such a claim — but whether or not, in mirroring one against the other, a space of mutual understanding can be reached.

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