Esri Canada recognized Matawa First Nations Management (MFNM) with an Award of Excellence for leveraging GIS to assist its member First Nations to safeguard traditional knowledge and make informed land use decisions. 

“First Nations communities across the country are increasingly taking control of their data,” said Alex Miller, president of Esri Canada. “The ability to map data with GIS makes it possible to preserve traditional knowledge and make informed land-use decisions. Mapping and data collection skills also open up a world of employment opportunities. We’re honored to recognize the Matawa First Nations for leveraging GIS to take their mapping capabilities to the next level.”

In the past, Matawa would hire an external consultant to collect data and conduct mapping projects for its nine communities. This was not only expensive, but also limited their ability to control data capture and management. With a desire to bring mapping and analysis in-house, they signed an ELA with Esri Canada which made it possible to cost-effectively equip each community with its own ArcGIS licence.

Using ArcGIS, they developed a centralized GIS data management system that allows community members to capture Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in their region, including traditional hunting and berry-picking grounds, as well as archaeological sites which are synchronized back to a secure geodatabase.

Four Rivers, the Tribal Council’s Environmental Services Advisory group, provided member communities with an extensive amount of GIS training so that maps could be independently created and edited.  Four Rivers is focused on capacity building at the First Nation level for environmental stewardship, mining awareness and values mapping.

“We wanted to integrate GIS into the Tribal Council and then train our communities to do their own mapping so that we don’t have to start from scratch every time a new project comes through,” said Kyle MacLaurin, GIS/Data Specialist for Four Rivers, Matawa First Nations Management.

Collected data is integrated with basemaps from Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources, as well as ArcGIS Online to produce powerful, informative maps. Maintaining data in a central geodatabase ensures that traditional values can be effectively preserved for future generations.

Maps are also created to monitor forest disease, observe benthic habitats, identify species at risk and demarcate zones based on land sensitivities. This provides an invaluable source of information for land use planning initiatives at the community and regional levels.   For example, zoning information can be quickly called upon to inform land use negotiations or to make decisions regarding resource development. GIS maps and analysis also provide communities with the ability to respond to increasing environmental pressures from industry and have informed discussions with developers.

“With GIS, our member communities can map out territories, cultural and historical values to ensure that they are protected in the face of development,” said David Paul Achneepineskum, CEO of Matawa First Nations Management. “Utilizing GIS technology at the community level represents a giant step towards community-based, natural resource management.”

Matawa First Nations has also introduced the technology to local students who are learning to collect and map data using free basemaps available on ArcGIS Online. As a next step, GIS will be used to map out the community’s assets to assist with infrastructure planning.