Critical Cartography

Mapping Peoples

3511.1 - Seeing the unseen: an Indigenous heritage’s mapping project

Monday, July 3
1:30 PM - 1:50 PM
Location: Hoover

Based on an ongoing qualitative and collaborative research project led in partnership with the Innu community of Pessamit, this paper brings into focus some specific issues regarding memories recollection and representation in a context of deterritorialization.

The Innu Nation, which is the most populous of the 11 First Nations of Quebec’s province, has a specific historical and political context related to resources exploitation. Since their traditional lands have been the site of several large-scale hydroelectric projects, they have been intimately – and to a large extent, forcibly – involved in the economic transformation of Quebec since the 1950s. It should be noted, however, that their ancestral occupation has never been formerly recognized by the federal and provincial governments. When the Manic-Bersimis-Outarde complex was built, some families got a small compensation (around 100$ per family), an insignificant amount compared to the equipment, hunting territories, and economic activities and resources they lost access to.

Through interviews we have conducted with the elders that travelled the rivers – before the floods – we tried to rebuild, in some way, the cultural heritage embedded in those submerged lands. We used different cartographic tools and materials in a way to support the personal narratives the elders were sharing, tools and materials capable of triggering the remembering process. We ended up working with national aerial pictures taken between 1940 and 1960 approximately, which we first georeferenced with an ArcGIS program, and then opened in Google earth to make them easy to manipulate during interviews. By using images taken before the flooding and by shifting the viewing angle to one situated in place as much as we could (Pearce, 2008), the representation we were looking at started to get closer to the landscapes the elders perceived and experimented as kids and young adults; as a result, the localisation of significant places and the creation of personal narratives became easier and fluid. Their knowledge of the region and, with it, their ability to situate themselves within the historical context of journeys previously made (Ingold, 2000), were apparently enhanced by the relationship they could then establish with their land and the emotional charge it contains.

Ultimately, the use of such flexible, evolving and multi-layered maps served as a medium to increase the Innus’ visibility within these profoundly altered landscapes, while supporting and stimulating an intergenerational and intercultural dialog. During interviews, my research collaborators (who were also the translators) were obviously learning a lot about their own land and the way their ancestors used to journey across it. Since most of the dams were built during the 50s and 60s, the younger generations are not familiar with the previous landscapes. Although they are very knowledgeable of its actual topography, the old aerial pictures added a set of new “words” to their geographical “language”. For my part, the deep mapping process we were going through, in adding emotional significance to the visually restored landscapes, helped me to better understand the social and cultural complexity of travelling in canoes on such distances, as well as living most of the year in these “remote” areas. Without such a detailed perspective of the “small island in the middle of the river” or the “fork where a smaller river meets the main stream”, I would have barely understood what a “meeting point”, a “grave”, a “portage” or a “family campsite” really mean for the Pessamiulnut (the Innus of Pessamit). Besides their initial role as memory-frames and commemorative vehicles that allow the remembered events or stories to be regained in collective memory, the cultural maps we created also serve as a language and a conversation.

Justine Gagnon

PhD Candidate in Geographical Sciences
Université Laval

Justine Gagnon is currently completing her PhD in Geographical Sciences at Université Laval, Québec. Her thesis questions, among other things, how collective memory is culturally produced and performed through landscaping. Highlighting the way Quebec's hydroelectric landscapes support a colonial and technological gazing in promoting a single vision of land as a resource to exploit, she brings into focus the Indigenous narratives that are still deeply embedded in those landscapes. Her main research interests thus concern (post)colonialism, cultural geography, Indigenous studies and memory processes.

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Daniel G. Cole

Geographic Information Systems Coordinator & Chief Cartographer
Smithsonian Institution

Daniel G. Cole is the GIS Coordinator and Chief Cartographer of the Smithsonian Institution (SI). He has worked in this position since 1990, and since 1986 has served as the research cartographer at SI. He co-edited, with the late Imre Sutton, Mapping Native America: Cartographic Interactions between Indigenous Peoples, Government and Academia, 3 vols., 2014. He has designed and created maps for multiple exhibits at the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of the American Indian. He also serves as GIS, cartographic and GPS consultant to other scientists, exhibit staff and illustrators within SI. From June 2009 to June 2010, he was president of the Canadian Cartographic Association; and he is now the vice-president of the Cartography and Geographic Information Society, and will become the president-elect in the spring of 2017.

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