Upending the Colonial Gaze: Archaeological GIS and the Privileging of Indigenous Ways of Knowing

Session Hosting Format: 
in-person session
Friday, May 5, 2023 - 9:00am to 10:00am
Kluskap A
  • Terry Beaulieu, St. Francis Xavier University
Contact Email: 
Session Description (300 word max): 

Geographic Information systems have often been criticized for being colonizing tools, even when incorporated into otherwise well-meaning archaeological contexts. But must that necessarily always be the case, or can archaeologists use GIS to intentionally decentre the archaeological colonizing gaze and privilege Indigenous perspectives when conducting research? Informed by a Two-Eyed-Seeing approach - that embraces the strengths of Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing while simultaneously engaging with Western approaches and procedures - this session takes the view that the colonizing affects often evident in archaeological applications of GIS are due to the theoretical approaches taken by the archaeologists employing the tool rather than something necessarily inherent within the tool itself.  The papers comprising this session highlight some of the innovative approaches that can be used when incorporating GIS into archaeological research. They show applications of GIS that are not exercises in archaeological colonization but rather, through intentional theoretical engagement, elevate and bring to the fore Indigenous perspectives that have often been hidden by less critical archaeological applications of GIS.

09:00 AM: Mapping the Métis of Southern Alberta: StoryMaps, Community Engagement, and Archaeology
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Dawn Wambold - Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology, University of Alberta

The landscape of Southern Alberta is acknowledged as the homeland of the Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksika, Kainai, Piikani), the Tsuut'ina, and the Îyâxe Nakoda Nations. In addition to the strong and undisputed landscape relationships of these First Nations, the Métis also have economic, kinship, and physical connections to this region that span generations. However, the extent, strength and temporal depth of these connections have been challenged (Voth and Loyer, 2019). Recognizing that toponyms (place names) can be descriptive of the physical landscape, allude to an event that happened at the place, or refer to a person or people who once called the place home, I used language and historical accounts to identify place names on the landscape with potential connections to the Métis. To better understand these potential relationships, ESRI’s ArcGIS StoryMaps application was used to map these places and create a website that was accessible to the Métis community. In this presentation I will discuss how the resultant ArcGIS StoryMaps were used to virtually engage with Métis community members across the province. I will also address how this important input will be used to guide future archaeological investigations into places deemed important to the Métis Nation of Alberta.

09:20 AM: Revealing Place and Travel Along the Red Deer River
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Terry Beaulieu - St. Francis Xavier University

Archaeological approaches that ignore Indigenous perspectives and prioritize Western views are not uncommon. Increasingly, though, growing numbers of archaeologists have begun reconciling the discipline’s colonial past by intentionally privileging Indigenous perspectives. However, some critics have questioned the authenticity of such attempts if they include distinctly colonial technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Employing such technologies, it is argued, necessarily (re)produces colonizing interpretations of the past. That critique, though, has been challenged by researchers embracing Indigenous driven perspectives such as Two-Eyed-Seeing who contend it is not technologies that create colonizing perspectives but rather theoretical frameworks within which they are deployed. This research adopts that perspective when investigating avenues of travel taken by past peoples moving through the plains of Southern Alberta. More than 40 km of pedestrian survey along the Red Deer River valley revealed close to 1,000 cobble features upon which GIS analyses were conducted. To mitigate the colonizing impacts inherent in uncritical Western-centric applications of GIS, a theoretical approach privileging Indigenous perspectives of place was deliberately employed. The melding of those Indigenous perspectives with technological GIS processes facilitated the creation of appropriate models of past travel and the identification of significant Indigenous places, including a past river crossing.