Using modern technology to protect ancient heritage 

Moving from paper maps to GPS helps the Lil'wat Nation protect its past

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - ancient art Johnny Jones points to pictograph rock paintings now protected thanks to the Lil'wat Nation's GIS project.
  • Photo suBmitted
  • ancient art Johnny Jones points to pictograph rock paintings now protected thanks to the Lil'wat Nation's GIS project.

In 1990, Johnny Jones of the Lil'wat Nation took part in a protest roadblock to prevent the construction of logging roads in the Ure Creek region, about 40 kilometres from his home in Mount Currie.

The blockade came after blasting destroyed sacred pictographs depicting legends of the Lil'wat Nation and marking ancient burial sites. The protests had already resulted in dozens of arrests and led to court in an attempt to stop the work. Jones recalled the horror he felt at the destruction.

"There were just three pictographs left. A whole rock face of them was blown out. I can't give you a number because there was a whole panel; there were paintings over paintings, all gone. The three left can still be seen: a thunderbird, a deer and what we call the big serpent," he said.  

"I didn't have any evidence of those other pictographs (existing) there and the judge threw the court case out."

Fast-forward and the Lil'wat Nation celebrated the creation of three conservancies on March 15, in a signing at Mount Currie that handed over stewardship of 10,000 hectares of wilderness by the British Columbian government.

The three conservancies cover traditional lands — the Qwalímak/Upper Birkenhead Conservancy, K'zuzált/Twin Two Conservancy, and Mkwal'ts Conservancy encompass the watersheds of the Upper Birkenhead River, Twin Two Creek, and Ure Creek respectively, all of which flow into Lillooet Lake near Pemberton. Each has a special designation and purpose, cultural or environmental or a combination of the two.

These decisions didn't happened in a vacuum. They grew out of a very modern protest to protect ancient heritage, and from the use of the most up-to-date technologies of land mapping to gather the evidence needed to make the conservancies a reality.

Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, is a high-tech database that researchers can access to ask questions about the composition of an area of terrain. Using Global Position Systems (GPS) to locate significant areas or objects, the GIS database is one of the biggest tools for Jones — a weapon against future denial of Lil'wat access to the region.

"The judge telling me there was no evidence, that's what got me right into GPSing and mapping all our cultural sites today," he said.

People out in the field collect the data, carrying Trimble handheld GPS in packs on their backs or in vehicles, gathering information as they move around.

"We collect the data and then it's logged into the computer, then the points appear in the maps here. We have the handheld collectors nowadays. It's a lot easier... We pick the points and add notes and hand it over," Jones said.

The information is displayed spatially in a layered map format. A single map can show topography combined with resources, cultural sites, water features, human and animal populations, and anything else considered important.

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