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Facilitating native land reacquisition in the rural USA through collaborative research and Geographic Information Systems
Geographical Research (2015)
  • Holly R. Barcus, Macalester College
  • Laura Smith
A large proportion of American Indian reservation lands are owned by non-Indian entities. A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a powerful tool for visualising land tenure changes, and public participation GIS (PPGIS) is one approach for using spatial technologies to facilitate the identification and reacquisition of reservation lands by tribes. While some tribes have successfully harnessed GIS for land management and for systematically identifying lands for reacquisition, others struggle to implement land management systems such as GIS for these purposes. This paper situates PPGIS in relation to other forms of participatory action research and outlines our use of a PPGIS framework to engage undergraduate geography students in the mapping of land tenure status on ten rural Minnesota Indian reservations as part of a collaborative partnership with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF). A PPGIS framework allowed us to collaboratively define research goals in response to tribal community needs and provided structure for student work with partner reservations to develop and implement tailored mapping and analysis techniques. Two sets of findings are significant. First, the assembly of a standardised set of maps for American Indian reservations in Minnesota provides a tremendous visual and analytical resource for ILTF and individual tribes to pursue land reacquisition within reservation boundaries. Second, from a PPGIS perspective, we found that working with a coordinating or ‘bridging’ organisation provided key benefits by enabling education of both the student–faculty partners and the individual tribes. The PPGIS model empowered both partners by allowing tribes to harness a powerful technology to assist in visualising land-based assets and allowing students to contribute to native land reacquisition efforts through application of their GIS skills. This mapping helps facilitate economic and cultural viability in tribal communities by providing an important visual catalogue of existing land-based assets, in support of future land acquisition and economic development planning.
Publication Date
December, 2015
Citation Information
Holly R. Barcus and Laura Smith. "Facilitating native land reacquisition in the rural USA through collaborative research and Geographic Information Systems" Geographical Research Vol. 54 Iss. 2 (2015) p. 118 - 128 ISSN: 1745-5871
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