Google is adding a significant number of Canadian indigenous reserves and land settlements to its popular mapping services, a move that will help communities during discussions with government and businesses while also making them discoverable through a quick search.
Starting Wednesday, on National Aboriginal Day, more than 3,000 Canadian indigenous lands are being added to Google Maps and Google Earth following seven years of collaboration between indigenous communities, mapping experts and Google Canada. The new content is available for anyone to access globally.
“We’ve focused on supporting indigenous communities that want to map and monitor their land — to create their own maps about history, culture, tradition, land and natural resources,” said San Francisco-based Raleigh Seamster, a project manager at Google who also helped lead similar efforts in the U.S. and Brazil.
“Because a lot of these indigenous communities in Canada are using Google Maps and Earth to build their own maps, it has become very apparent and important to us that their lands are accurately represented on our base map. That’s why we wanted to do this project, which is really just taking a first step to put indigenous lands on Google Maps based on available data.”
Google Canada has already been holding annual workshops for indigenous communities across the country since 2014, training them how to digitally map the details of their land and share internally. Now the tech giant is combining data from the communities and Natural Resources Canada to make the information as accurate as possible and available to everyone.
“One of the first things most people do when they look at a map is they want to know where their home is. So before they’d say, ‘I know my home is here somewhere, but it doesn’t show up,’” said Steven DeRoy, a professional cartographer who has helped Google on the project plus is Anishinabe/Saulteaux and a member of the Ebb and Flow First Nation from Manitoba.
“This project has been a real asset to communities because now when people look for their home on Google Maps they’ll actually see it, from an indigenous perspective.”
DeRoy has been doing his own mapping workshops for indigenous communities since 2003 as a way to create a group of indigenous mappers that learn how to use the tools and see how other communities are applying them.
“Mapping is very important to communities, to be able to demarcate their territories and identify the lands that are important to them,” he said. “It’s used in negotiations with government, resource companies and others.”
Conventional mapping exercises — where people mapped out where they do things such as hunt, fish or perform ceremonies — used to take place on paper place maps, DeRoy said. “But when Google came out with Google Earth, that really changed the field for us.”
Now DeRoy uses a direct-to-digital exercise that projects Google Earth on the wall during a community workshop where people use a laser pointer to show what should be added. Instead of mapping on paper, the information is captured digitally and cuts down on the time it takes to get out to the community or public.
“It really transformed how we carry out research with indigenous communities by being able to reduce the amount of post-processing effort, increase the amount of spatial literacy and increase the amount of accuracy in which these maps and data are collected in,” he said. “You can also get really close into the ground to see details such as trees, lakes or shorelines and actually pinpoint with great accuracy the location of all these places.”
Google said it will continue to work with partners to add more data in Google Maps and Earth in the months to come. Individuals and communities can also recommend changes or additions through the Maps’ Send Feedback feature or Google’s Base Map Partner Program.
“The powerful thing about Google’s mapping tools is that they are so easy to use. Even if community members don’t have professional degrees in mapping, they can come to short workshops and start learning,” she said.
“It opens it up for a lot more members of the communities to be involved in the process, which I think is really exciting. It’s sort of democratizing map making.”