Maps tell many stories
Traditional land-use mapping a fascinating process

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Mar 19/99) - Dots on a map.

Although that's how it may appear to the untrained eye, traditional land-use mapping amounts to much more, especially rich memories, according to Herb Norwegian.

"Every little point that they put on the paper has got a story to it. That's the kind of stuff that we're talking about," he said. Norwegian, boundaries co-ordinator for the Deh Cho First Nations, and fellow land-use planner Petr Cizek, based out of Yellowknife, were in Jean Marie River last week to record volumes of information through interviews with local residents.

Thirty-four adults and four elders were scheduled to be interviewed over the course of the week. They were asked to point out on a map where they recall sites for hunting, fishing, trapping, cabins, burial sites and where they've spotted various types of animals.

Norwegian said an average interview, some conducted in Slavey while others were done in English, takes about two hours. Those involving elders who have spent much of their lives on the land can require up to four hours. One elder, recalling a successful moose hunt, vividly remembered details such as how he tracked the animal, the weather conditions and how he felt after the kill.

"It's such an honourable thing for somebody to be relaying that kind of stuff to you. It's something that has happened day-by-day, minute-by-minute for a lot of these people," Norwegian said. "Just to remember back to the exact day that they had caught a fish, and they were really hungry and, boy, they wanted it so's honourable stuff."

Some of the things Norwegian hears admittedly comes as a surprise, such as sightings of pelicans and flying squirrels. Cizek said he was fascinated by stories of "deadfall traps," "big game snares," and willow bark nets for fishing.

All of the information gathered is compiled on a computer in a Geographical Information System, according to Cizek. Then, composite maps can be created with the information, sorted by themes such as habitat areas or cabin sites. The maps then become the property of each respective First Nation, each of whom endorse the mapping process, he added.

Land-use mapping had been carried out in the 1970s, Cizek noted, but it wasn't as specific as it is today. Its purpose is to prove aboriginal title to the land and to help settle boundary issues between bands and regions, he said.

Norwegian and Cizek also train local researchers in each community they visit. In Jean Marie River, Rufus Sanguez assisted with the interview process. He said he feels mapping is necessary to create protected areas before oil companies enter this area.

Norwegian and Cizek have completed the land-use mapping process in Nahanni Butte, Fort Simpson and Trout Lake. They will be in Kakisa in April.