Qualitative Participatory Mapping of Seal and Walrus Harvest and Habitat Areas: Documenting Indigenous Knowledge, Preserving Local Values, and Discouraging Map Misuse

Qualitative Participatory Mapping of Seal and Walrus Harvest and Habitat Areas: Documenting Indigenous Knowledge, Preserving Local Values, and Discouraging Map Misuse

Lily Gadamus (Geographer, Kawerak Social Science Program, Nome, AK, USA) and Julie Raymond-Yakoubian (Social Science Program Director, Kawerak Social Science Program, Nome, AK, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/ijagr.2015010105


In the Bering Strait region of Alaska decreasing sea ice and increasing development are driving environmental and policy changes that significantly impact federally recognized tribes, which depend on marine resources for cultural, economic, and nutritional reasons. Kawerak, Inc., an Alaska Native non-profit tribal consortium, conducted participatory ice seal and walrus harvest and habitat mapping in collaboration with nine of the region's federally recognized tribes. Participants were concerned that maps could misrepresent marine mammal mobility, limit future harvest area flexibility, increase outside regulation of harvest activities, generate conflict between communities, and attract commercial activity. This paper addresses these concerns through a technique called qualitative participatory mapping, which preserves local voices and priorities. This technique helped communicate and convey respect for traditional knowledge while lowering the probability of map misuse or misinterpretation. This work evaluated project results in terms of Elwood's dimensions of empowerment, which indicated the largest gain in capacity building, and more moderate gains for procedural and distributional empowerment.
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1. Introduction

1.1. Mapping as a Tool to Incorporate Resource-Dependent Communities into Management

In the Bering Strait region, Indigenous tribes defend their traditional ways of life, including hunting and fishing over extensive terrestrial and marine areas. As in other places, technocratic government resource management and increasingly powerful commercial interests make this an ongoing struggle. Technocratic policy making promotes expert-based decision-making, and communities have limited influence. The technocratic model does not recognize local expertise, the role of values in policy-making, or the extent of scientific uncertainty (Fiorino, 1990; Lane, 2005). Although a considerable body of scholarship describes the value of Indigenous knowledge (e.g. Berkes, 1987; Menzies, 2006; Ray et al., 2012), as well as the importance of community participation in resource management (e.g. Tsing, Brosius, & Zerner, 2005; Western & Wright, 1994) in Alaska, Indigenous resource users regularly have their knowledge dismissed as anecdotal. As such, many tribal organizations are now documenting traditional knowledge and use with scientifically recognized methods such as GIS mapping.

Participatory GIS (PPGIS) aims to empower communities, incorporate diverse participants, build management skills, and transfer power to non-elite resource users (Parker, 2006; Sieber, 2006). GIS skill transfer can lower the digital divide, enabling more people to produce and use data (Kwaku Kyem, 2004). Communities can use GIS projects to document and legitimize their existing knowledge, develop and answer their own management questions, and generate locally useful information. GIS use helps communities present their knowledge using the language of science, which is respected by funders and policy-makers (Elwood, 2002; Ghose, 2001). Maps can transform resource management perceptions and drive decision-making processes, and Indigenous communities have successfully used mapping to claim land and to achieve self-governance (Sieber, 2006; Tobias, 2009; Wainright & Bryan, 2009). Maps are also visually engaging and accessible to community members of diverse backgrounds (Ghose, 2001).

PPGIS critics have argued that as marginalized communities need decision-making power, they should advocate for more inclusive policy-making, rather than producing maps for existing technocratic processes (Sieber, 2006). Empowerment depends upon changes in power relations, and some worry that defending community views in technical language may imply that local knowledge and values are inferior (Ghose, 2001; Kwaku Kyem, 2004). Many types of local knowledge cannot be represented spatially, and may end up excluded from GIS-driven decision-making processes (Elwood, 2002). Additionally, as GIS software is expensive and technical, it may be unsustainable, require considerable outside assistance, promote top-down planning, and exclude many community members from decision-making at the local level (Kwaku Kyem, 2004; Wainright & Bryan, 2009).

In addition to concerns about GIS’s technical nature, there are also concerns about the representational capacity of maps. Fox (2002) notes that maps are static and reductionist representations that may be incompatible with the complex and dynamic nature of local resource knowledge, may transform community environmental perceptions, and may reify dynamic resource use. Additionally, mapping for land claims generally presents Indigenous land use organized around Western style property rights, which can lead to conflicts within or between communities, cause privatization of collective land, and complicate traditional use patterns (Fox, 2002; Wainright & Bryan, 2009). Dividing territory is a political act that frequently conflicts with Indigenous approaches to land use and community relations (Wainright & Bryan, 2009). Finally, mapping makes sensitive information, about resource distribution and resource use, visible, which can increase outside commercial interest or government regulation (Fox, 2002; Wainright & Bryan, 2009).

When Kawerak, Inc., the Alaska Native non-profit tribal consortium for the Bering Strait region, initiated a mapping project to defend Bering Strait Indigenous marine use from expanding industrial activities, many seal and walrus hunters shared the concerns described above. In order to address these concerns as well as the impending marine development, we created a strategy for qualitative participatory mapping. In this case study we describe, in detail, our approach to qualitative participatory mapping. We then evaluate the results in terms of the PPGIS literature.

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