Rewiring GIS for Social Change

My graduate student, Christopher Wellen, is working on a masters degree on Geospatial Ontologies of the Cree.

Thesis Abstract: Indigenous peoples have been using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to represent their interests with the state and record traditional knowledge for decades. However, GIS technology has been put to use as-is in indigenous contexts, typically with base data created by the dominant society. This is problematic because indigenous peoples may not think of their landscapes in the same way as the dominant societies in which they reside. This thesis seeks to address this problem by creating a GIS based on the spatial ontology of the Wemindji Cree, a Cree village on the East Coast of James Bay. This thesis will focus on placenames, stories, and landscape feature categories unique to the Cree, and will address seasonal change, a significant component of indigenous spatial ontology. A system design that integrates web pages for places and stories with a GIS database connected to a map server is a suggested architecture. The GIS database would be based on Cree landscape feature categories. An iterative methodology for system design is proposed, where a prototype is built and brought to Wemindji, then modified based on user feedback. Landscape feature categories will be elicited following Mark and Turk (2003). The requirements of users will also be investigated regarding interface. It is anticipated that Wemindji students can benefit from a system such as proposed, though elders and hunters may require non-digital forms of geo-spatial information, as they are not accustomed to computers or are away from Wemindji for a major part of the year (cross-listed under rewiring section).



Sieber, R. E. (forthcoming). The Nature of GIS and Society: GIS and its Social Implications for Conservation and the Environment. In Nyerges, T., H. Couclelis, and R. McMaster, eds. Geographic Information Systems and Society Handbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Sieber, R. E. 2004. Rewiring for a GIS/2. Cartographica 39(1): 25-39.