Indigenous Land Mapping
Indigenous communities all around the world have been facing the destruction of their lands as populations grow. Land shortages have only increased as changing climate continues to make parts of the world uninhabitable. The expansion of urban construction into protected Indigenous lands has violated the rights of Indigenous communities, who often have formal legal agreements with surrounding governments. Additionally, Indigenous people typically have poorer health and development outcomes than their non-Indigenous counterparts. The use of drones for land mapping is giving Indigenous communities more power and protection. Here is some information about Indigenous land mapping.

Indigenous Land Mapping

Creating accurate and culturally sensitive maps gives Indigenous communities respect and anchors them in their traditions. While there is a long history of erasure within Indigenous lands, mapping legitimizes their claims in the eyes of surrounding governments. This is particularly important when it comes to the preservation of this land, as well as the livelihoods of the Indigenous peoples who inhabit it.

Drones have become a remarkably efficient means of mapping hard-to-reach areas and the true borders of Indigenous claims to land. They are small, easy to use and can store data electronically. The geographic information systems (GIS) that are in drones can help build virtual maps. Additionally, individuals and large-scale projects alike can use drones.

The Indigenous Mapping Collective is a virtual network of Indigenous people who empower each other to map their communities. It offers skills training in drone use, land mapping and more from professional cartographers. In 2014, the Indigenous Mapping Collective partnered with Google Earth and held its first workshop designed to encourage more representation on the mapping platform.

The Power of Land Mapping

The possibilities are endless when it comes to drone use in Indigenous land mapping. The kinds of information gathered from electronic land mapping have implications for development, health and equity.

Drone mapping data has been used to assess “housing fire risk, historical building preservation status and potential economic resources such as tourist attractions [for] data-poor” Indigenous communities in China.

In Panama, the Indigenous Guna people have been in the throes of a housing crisis, coupled with land shortages and the devastating impacts of environmental changes. Relocation has long been a source of violence for Indigenous people. However, a partnership between Guna community leaders and Panama Flying Labs allowed the Indigenous community to survey their land and make their own decisions about their futures, UAV Coach reported.

Peru and Guyana have also been home to many Indigenous drone mapping projects, whose main outlooks for the future include environmental protection opportunities and the defense against illegal expansion projects.

Indigenous communities are already considered vulnerable populations. In North America, Canada and many other nations around the world, Indigenous peoples face discouraging health disparities.

Given power over their territories, they can be more informed about how to utilize their resources and better protect themselves from illegal government action. Land mapping alone is important in achieving these goals and the use of drone technology makes it that much more accessible and intuitive.

– Hannah Yonas
Photo: Flickr

Map Bias
The map most people are familiar with looks something like the image above, having learned about it in school. But what if they learned that this map is wrong and that there is such a thing as map bias?

The Map Everyone Knows

The most common maps that people are familiar with are versions of the Mercator Projection Map. Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator created this map in 1569. Originally intended solely for ocean navigation, the map has found its way into the classrooms of many western schools including those in the United States. The Mercator Projection has many flaws and it is a prime example of how map bias can shape one’s world view.

As Gauss’ Theorem Egregium proved, it is mathematically impossible to translate a sphere onto a 2D plane without creating distortions in either the shape, size, distance or direction of points on that sphere. That is why creating maps of the world is so tricky. However, Mercator’s map is particularly flawed, and it is especially problematic when teaching young children basic geography.

The map compromises accurate landmass size in favor of accurate direction, in the hopes of being a better tool for navigation. By the north and south poles, landmasses are stretch beyond proportion while at the equator, countries shrink.

For example, the map shows Greenland as roughly the same size as the entire continent of Africa. However, in actuality, Africa is 14 times larger than Greenland. The European continent seems to be as large as South America when South America should really be twice its size. According to the Mercator map, the equator should run through Florida, not Indonesia, Brazil and the Congo. Additionally, the state of Alaska appears massive on the Mercator Projection, seemingly the size of half of the contiguous United States. However, its landmass is actually smaller than that of Mexico.

Map Bias and its Effects on our World View

With all these seemingly obvious flaws in the Mercator Map, it is difficult to understand its continued use in classrooms. However, when you analyze the Eurocentric bias in much of western education, the purpose of such a flawed map becomes clearer.

The Mercator Projection puts emphasis on Europe and North America. It both places them at the top, and enlarges them and shifts them downward to appear more central on the plane. Meanwhile, developing countries in Southeast Asia, South America and Africa appear minuscule in comparison, literally below the industrialized western nations.

This teaching of the Mercator Map is a prime example of what many know as map bias. Map bias can deeply affect the way people view the world and their inner sense of “importance.” When one sees their own country as larger, it may warp their views of the significance of other countries.

In a 2002 study that the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making published, an evaluation of 3-year-olds and adults showed that humans favor larger stimuli. Humans naturally gravitate to things that are larger and more centered. Another study from Kai Krause, a professor from the University of California Santa Barbara, showed that a majority of school children believe that the United States is the “largest country in the world.”

Therefore, people may unconsciously place the shrunken developing countries out of geographical importance, possibly affecting how much they see these countries as being “worthy” of support. The Mercator Map projects the message of colonialist superiority and reinforces the perceived inferiority of developing nations.

How to Change Map Bias

There has been much debate in recent years as to how to address issues of map bias. It is becoming increasingly clear that the education systems in place in western nations should stray away from imperialistically revisioned history including the way they teach geography.

The simplest solution is to start the widespread use of maps that do not discount developing countries. One example of this push came from the Boston Public Schools Board of Education in 2017. The school board voted in favor of adopting the Gail-Peters Projection to replace the Mercator Projection. It hopes to combat the diminished significance of southern-hemisphere continents on the latter map due to 86% of its students being students of color.

American schools should adopt maps that more accurately represent the planet. The Mercator Map is a colonial relic and schools should no longer use it to teach what the world looks like.

Aidan Sun
Photo: Wikimedia Commons