The Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre (GCRC) at Carleton University is a multidisciplinary research centre that is actively engaged in community-focused projects on Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge, especially with communities in the North. Its extensive collaboration with several Inuit and First Nations organizations, territorial governments and funding agencies over the past two decades has contributed to a strong community-designed approach to knowledge generation, and the presentation of that information in innovative cybercartographic atlases. The term ‘atlas’ is a metaphor for all kinds of quantitative and qualitative information linked by location. These atlases are quite different from traditional ones and are multi-media and multi-sensory. They concentrate on storytelling.
This collaborative approach is articulated in the Inuit name of the innovative cybercartographic digital atlas platform, Nunaliit, meaning community. This leading edge technology, inclusive of an open source software package that is being continuously developed to meet the specific and unique needs of a range of communities and organizations, was developed by the GCRC, under the leadership of Dr. D. R. Fraser Taylor. The Nunaliit platform is being used by many communities in the North and elsewhere.
GCRC community partners who contributed to the development of the technology and are actively engaged in its uses, expressed a strong interest to connect with each other directly and share experiences. Hence, in September 2017, the GCRC recently organized a three-day workshop in Chelsea, Quebec to pursue the following objectives:
- share knowledge and approaches to Indigenous community data documentation and stewardship in the North;
- learn new skills for working with Nunaliit from the development team and each other;
- collaborate in the planning of a roadmap for future Nunaliit platform development with the GCRC team;
- plan future cross-community data integration projects;
- identify new partners and opportunities for strengthening the collective; and
- identify potential funding sources for sustainable research, development and support of the platform with minimal overlap or duplication of effort.
The workshop was jointly funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Department of Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development, and included thirteen presentations by the participants. Community and government representatives from the following northern partner organizations participated in the workshop: Kitikmeot Heritage Society, Ittaq Heritage and Research Centre, the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA) project, the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board, the Slave River Coalition, and the Nunavut Coastal Resource project team of the Government of Nunavut. Funding for the travel expenses of Indigenous participants was provide by the Community-Based Climate Monitoring Program of the Department of the Indian Affairs and Northern Development. SSHRC funding covered the remaining workshop expenses.
The workshop was highly successful in three particular areas. It served community and academic priorities by bringing together a range of Northern Indigenous partners and researchers to advance research collaboration, strengthen skills development, foster community stewardship of future development, and strengthen plans for scholarly communications and publication. In addition, the partnership development benefits collaboration and joint contribution to the Arctic Oceans Atlas, which is part of a larger multi-partner OceanCanada initiative. Finally, participants were also involved in discussions with funders from SSHRC, Department of Indigenous and Northern Development, National Resources Canada, Polar Canada, Environment Canada and Health Canada. This helped both to overcome historical barriers between funders and northern communities and also to advance inter-agency interaction on objectives of common interest.
Finally it is noted that the overall initiative also demonstrates long term commitment to supporting the academic and knowledge generation interests of Indigenous communities, and that this is consistent with the spirit of the academic recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.