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