Workshops hope to inspire Indigenous youth to get involved in mapping

He’s seen cartography evolve from hand-drawn maps to incorporating computer based technologies. This week, Steven DeRoy’s company - the Firelight Group - has invited Indigenous people interested in mapping to Winnipeg for a week's worth of workshops.

Indigenous mapping workshops brings together over 200 in Winnipeg

Steven DeRoy's company, the Firelight Group has been hosting workshops in Winnipeg aimed at getting more Indigenous people involved in mapping. (Lenard Monkman)

He's seen cartography evolve from hand-drawn maps to incorporating computer based technologies, and now he has invited Indigenous people interested in mapping to Winnipeg for a week's worth of workshops.

"The whole goal of the workshops is to provide that opportunity for training, for capacity enhancement, also to provide a space for people to network and talk to each other," said Steve DeRoy from the Firelight Group.

DeRoy, is Anishinaabe from Ebb and Flow/Lake Manitoba First Nations, and is hoping to get more Indigenous people involved in mapping. His company, the Firelight Group, works on community based research projects with Indigenous communities across the country.

"This is a nice opportunity to bring people together to learn and be able to share stories, and find some of those common solutions to the problems that many communities are facing," said DeRoy.

Now I have a wonderful opportunity to be able to travel across the country and work with these communities using these technologies.- Steve DeRoy

The week-long workshops are being held at the Radisson hotel in downtown Winnipeg, and has brought together a couple of hundred people to learn more about making maps. Guests include specialists from across North America, Indigenous peoples from various communities, as well as a delegation of  30 youth.

"It's really nice to provide that opportunity for exposure and hopefully provide some inspiration for them to see this as a career in the long term," said DeRoy.

"The main area of work that we do research in, is environmental assessment," said DeRoy. "Looking at the large scale energy developments and how they may impact Indigenous communities."

Last year, his team also helped to officially have First Nations communities recognized on Google Earth and Google Maps. He was first introduced to Google in 2008, after being invited to a participate in an Indigenous mapping and networking conference hosted by the company. It was that initial invitation that forged a relationship with the tech company going forward.

He got involved in mapping over 20 years ago, and stumbled upon his career by accident. His neighbour at the time worked for the United States Geological Survey, and told him that it was an emerging field.

"I decided to take a program and I aligned myself with people that we're much smarter than me, doing these really interesting projects with Indigenous communities. Over time, I learned how to apply those skills," said DeRoy.

"Now I have a wonderful opportunity to be able to travel across the country and work with these communities using these technologies."

International Indigneous connection

Moka Apiti is one of the people visiting Winnipeg for the 2017 Indigenous Mapping Workshop.

Apiti is Moari, from Wellington, New Zealand and is presenting at the conference. He is a Geographic Information Systems specialist, and director of a family owned business in New Zealand called Digital Navigators.

The company works specifically with Indigenous communities and helps to educate and map out the cultural resources of communities.
Moka Apiti is a Geographic Information Systems specialist from New Zealand. (Lenard Monkman)

Apiti is familiar with a lot of the google technology but also using whatever else is at his disposal, including drones.

"It's just trying to figure out at this point, google has these great 3D visualization tools which is similar to how we think, which is able to soar like a bird across these landscapes," said Apiti.

"The beauty of what GIS does, is that you can go out and capture stories that have been retained by your elders, put it into a database and then paint a picture with it by visualizing it."

Apiti, is one of the first people from his tribe to go to university. Halfway through his first year, he was pulled aside by the elders in his tribe, who told him to get involved in mapping.

Every decision we make, we're making informed decisions. We're able to visualize it.- Moka Apiti

"The direction from my tribe was to go out into the world, learn these tools, and bring them back home," said Apiti.

"We were going through the treaty settlements. They could see that we needed to look at how we capture stories. How we look at overlapping contentious issues, how we're able to retain the knowledge and value systems. Looking at the whole digitization of our archival records since our elders we're passing away," said Apiti.

Nowadays, whenever Moari tribes are going into meetings with non-Indigenous companies and governments, they know what the value of their territories are.

"Every decision we make, we're making informed decisions. We're able to visualize it, being able to show it in a map format, we show our cards, and they say 'wait a minute,'" said Apiti.

"We do anything from freshwater management to … traditional knowledge use, [and] heritage. We've managed to integrate it all into our tribe."

Workshop inspiring Indigneous youth

Carson Robinson from Sagkeeng First Nation is one of the 30 youth delegates invited to the workshops this week. On monday participants we're asked to find their homes using google earth, and trace the steps that it would take to get to the workshop venue.

"The technicality of mapping, so much time and man-hours go into that," said Robinson.
Carson Robinson is from Sagkeeng First Nation. He is one of 30 Indigenous youth delegates invited to participate in the workshops. (Lenard Monkman)

"Tracing from Sagkeeng to Winnipeg took an hour. That's almost like driving to Sagkeeng, how technical it is. You have to be pretty precise, you can't cut corners."

Robinson was impressed by what he's witnessed at the conference so far.

"They talked about the surveying that they do, and it's really big on the fight for climate justice," said Robinson.

With information learned at the conference, he noted how important mapping can be for people living in First Nations communities.

"They're really looking at what is going on in the reserves and in the communities … the pollution and the changes in the environments in those communities — going from having beautiful landscapes to having them wasted away and looking bare," Robinson said.

"If you're into land management, this is the place to be. Lots of the people that are here are the front line workers for lots of that. Documenting, surveying the areas which are most affected."


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1