IMN@UCBerkeley Meeting: Tammie Grant

Note: IMN@UCBerkeley convened mapping practitioners, indigenous community members, indigenous rights organizations, researchers, and technology professionals to discuss current issues in indigenous mapping. Our meetings were intended to create a platform for supporting indigenous mapping collaborations and linking communities with emerging technologies. We organized a series of invited talks hosted on campus; I wrote articles about these talks which were posted on the IMN website to share with other members of the group who weren’t able to attend. Below I have reproduced the article with permission.

September 2009 meeting of the Indigenous Mapping Network at UC Berkeley:  Tammie Grant shares her experiences working with tribal colleges and geospatial technologies.

Article by Melissa Eitzel

It’s the beginning of the new semester at Berkeley and we had a nice turnout this evening. In attendance were some graduate students in Anthropology (specifically, archeology) and in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM), including some first year grads in the latter program as well as some old-timers, and an undergrad from the Native American Studies program here to report back on our meeting to her program’s newsletter.

Tammie Grant returns to the Berkeley IMN chapter tonight to show us some of her experiences in working with the Salish Kootenai College in Montana as a tribal college geospatial outreach consultant. She began by reviewing some tribal college history, emphasizing the need for more workforce development on reservations, including specifically jobs in civil engineering, nursing, teaching, natural resource management, and business administration. Though the tribes have sovereignty, they often have poor economic development due to several factors, including isolation, lack of capital, shortage of skilled workers, and the short political cycle of tribal government. Many of the teachers at the college and many of the people doing remote sensing or GIS work are often white; a good goal is to train tribal workers in these jobs and to retain them in the community.

Tammie then illustrated a variety of outreach projects, including student internships at federal agencies such as NASA and USGS, and several examples of student projects sampling water quality on a reservation and using MODIS satellite data to detect fires. She emphasised the importance of involving the teachers at the college in these projects to foster student-teacher relationships and to allow the skills and information to integrate more effectively into the community.

The centerpiece of Tammie’s presentation was her nearly completed work in integrating geological Western teaching with oral tradition storytelling from elders. In particular in the Flathead Lake area, there is a rich geological history of folding, faulting, and glacial activity which has been well-studied by the University of Montana, and there is a parallel, rich oral history of the area in both the Salish and Kootenai traditions. The project involved teaching the two side-by-side, with the geologist and the elder taking turns telling the stories of the landscape. The products generated by this project are a DVD of stories told by the elders, a teacher’s reference guide containing some of the same information, a Google Earth project showing the sites, stories, and photos, field trips with middle school students and elders, and teacher workshops for this material as well as for ArcGIS.

After a demonstration of some of these products, a lively discussion followed on the issues surrounding the recording of oral history and the social issues that can potentially surround teaching on reservations. Tammie reports that all of the students mentioned above have continued to use geospatial technologies, either on the reservation, at the tribal college, or have gone on to grad school at University of Montana. One attendee from archeology had just completed an educational module for a group in the Southwest, and related parallel concerns about the adoption of new curricula. Another attendee from ESPM related her experiences with Arctic tribes in Canada, where the concerns are social before educational. She cited the importance of getting the kids on the land both to address social and behavioral issues as well as being culturally appropriate. Also discussed was the issue of respectfully using the elders’ time, and the organic way in which native storytelling often unfolds – perhaps not resulting in the stories that were originally desired, or at least not immediately. One of the managers of the Geospatial Innovation Facility here at Berkeley related how colleagues of his at the American Natural History Museum have developed tools for including stories and photos in Quantum GIS, an open-source GIS product.  The discussions in general seemed fruitful as people from different areas compared notes and learned from others’ experiences.