Territory mapping

Mapeo Histórico Cultural Yánesha
Mapeo Histórico Cultural Wampis Awajún

Over the last few decades, the recognition of the territorial rights of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon has been at a low point in the public agenda in Peru, although in recent years the issue has gained considerable visibility. In this context, mapping tools have gained relevance for both the protection of territory of indigenous peoples and the conservation of resources vital to their survival and the preservation of their culture, in particular, mapping territorial borders, use of resources and cultural-historical space. Additionally, maps allow for the design and planning of indigenous territories’ zoning for various uses: areas for indigenous culture and traditional economy preservation; areas for productive activities linked to the market; areas for biodiversity conservation, national priority areas (such as hydrocarbon exploitation), and areas for future urbanization.

1. Community boundaries mapping and resource-use mapping

Native communities’ boundaries maps and resource-use maps are valuable research tools for social and environmental sciences, showing the extent of the territory being used, as well as the zoning of resources use areas. These tools are also useful for the recognition of communities’ physical borders and the defense of territorial rights. Following the methodology employed by IBC’s Information System on Native Communities (SICNA), all map production involves the active participation of local populations, which share their knowledge of the local geography and the cultural value associated to certain places. IBC provides scientific and technological components.

Community-boundaries mapping

This work is meant for titled communities only, as it is conducted in reference to the official community map that supports its legal tenure title and as a means to perfecting it. On communities lacking official titles, only the coordinates of the community’s human settlement can be taken with GPS, but no boundaries map can be made.

Prior to any fieldwork, the IBC coordinates with regional indigenous federations and state entities in order to establish agreements on information gathering in specific native communities and its use by SICNA. Once in the community, an IBC technician and a leader of the indigenous organization make a presentation to the communal assembly of the objectives, methodology and expected results of the work. All members of the community, both men and women, are encouraged to participate in this meeting. SICNA’s socio-economic survey is then applied to all attendants, male and female, including leaders. Next, community leaders and selected community members locate on a printed copy of the national base map the boundaries and any relevant geographic features of the communal territory, mainly brooks. Then, indigenous leaders and community members knowledgeable of the communal boundaries accompany the IBC technician in order to register the GPS coordinates of at least two accessible landmarks of the community boundary in situ, plus the location of the community’s human settlement. Additionally, GPS coordinates are taken at the intersections of stable brooks’ courses with roads, bridges, airstrips, etc. These points will be used at the image rectification stage.

Once the field work is complete, the information is processed at the GIS geographic information system lab. Using ArcGis software, a polygon of the native community is generated based on registered GPS coordinates, plus the distance and azimuth showing on the community official map. Subsequently, the milestone GPS coordinates are overlapped to the digital base map of the community. In the meantime, the survey of socio-economic information is entered into the SICNA database. Once the processing of all information is complete and the digital map is produced, the communities’ leaders, their regional federations, and signatory state entities of the initial agreement receive an A0 format printed map covering all the communities in the area, or its digital version.

Mapping resource use zoning

In preparation for resource-use mapping, a base map is developed on A0 paper, taking into account the dispersion range of the activities of the participating communities. As a source, SICNA, INEI, MINAM, and other databases can be used. A legend is also developed, with a set of symbols (triangles, squares, circles of different colors) for the recording of information related to the territory, the different resources that exist and the uses that are given to each.

The objective of the workshop and its expected results are explained in communal assembly, with the participation of both men and women. Information is then gathered, starting with hydrography, marking on the map the bodies of water that are not listed on the base map, including names of brooks, ponds, etc. Then, geographical features are located on the map; for example communication routes, forest areas, infrastructure, populated centers, human settlements, etc., followed by crops, fishing areas, hunting areas, sacred places. A presentation of each elaborate map is made, characterizing the conservation and management strengths of the area, as well as the conflicts to be diagnosed.

On the basis of these maps, a GPS coordinate taking plan is made by IBC technicians, communal authorities and workshop participants.

In the cabinet, the information obtained is systematized and resource-use maps are developed with the ArcGis program. The resulting map is validated in a new workshop in the community, which presents an opportunity to answer questions, correct errors and include additional information. Back in the cabinet, the map is supplemented with information resulting from the visual interpretation of satellite images. The final map is delivered to the communal authorities during an assembly.

2. Mapping the Historical-Cultural Space of Indigenous Peoples

For the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, the defense of their territory is paramount since it is crucial to their physical and socio-cultural survival. Their territory is vital because of the ancestral ties that give strength and social and cultural cohesion to the group. In the Amazonian worldview the territory is considered a collective good, in close interdependence with nature. Mapping the historical-cultural spaces of Amazonian indigenous peoples is useful for reaffirming the historical and cultural links of peoples with territories they have lost throughout history. The reconstruction of the traditional space allows (i) to recover the history and location of the traditional space of indigenous peoples, (ii) revive and maintain traditional oral history and strengthen ethnic identity, and (iii) consolidate the territorial planning processes and titling and/or expansion of territory for native communities. Generally speaking, this type of mapping is a criterion for defining indigenous territoriality. A first step of this process involves formulating research questions: What was the space where the ancestors and characters of the story walked at different stages? The collection of oral history on cosmology, world creation and cultural heroes is then initiated. These stories are carefully recorded, compared, and analyzed to identify all references to geographic elements that have served as scenarios for the actions of the ancestors. With this information, a mapping of cultural contents is made in specific physical spaces, be they hills, rivers, raves, springs, waterfalls, pools, rocks, caves, ancient inhabited places and sacred places. Whenever possible, GPS reference points are set. Efforts are made to chart the ancient paths that connected communities before the construction of modern roads, as they are important indicators of ancient connections. The information should be supplemented by data found in historical documentation, with the same current geographical knowledge of indigenous people and the various versions of traditional histories. Office work involves entering all information into a database designed exclusively for this initiative. The elements are also placed on a digital base map in GIS. Finally, the results are checked with knowledgeable elders through visits to the sites of the ancestors and then the final map is drawn up.

3. Mapping the transit areas of uncontacted indigenous peoples

Mapping the transit areas of uncontacted indigenous peoples requires collecting and recording testimonies of key informants –i.e. settlers from neighboring native or riverine communities, foreign agents working in the area, such as loggers, miners or NGO developing projects in the area– who have had contact with indigenous people in isolation or who have heard stories of individuals who experienced some kind of encounter. This indirect research methodology is designed to avoid contact with uncontacted groups, since access to transit areas for direct research and search for material culture or footprints could put their lives at risk because of the potential for disease contagion. Testimonies are collected through in-depth interviews. After conducting interviews in various locations/communities, GPS coordinates for the meeting points or sightings identified are marked on geographical maps. This provides a first idea of the areas of transit of uncontacted indigenous peoples. In addition to interviews, it is useful to run communal meetings and collective mappings on sighting points. Once the information is collected in the field, it is processed in the SICNA laboratory and cadastral maps are elaborated using a Geographic Information System (GIS). To spatially locate the data obtained through the testimonies on indigenous people in isolation and to register their transit zones on the map, the GIS is applied to a National Geographic Institute map at a scale of 1:100 000, as well as to titling plans of native communities, 1999 Landsat satellite images and a map of georeferenced native communities developed by SICNA – IBC. To ensure the accuracy of georeferenced sighting points, they must be saturated and triangulated with other testimonies and with complementary bibliographic information when possible.