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From Mi’kmaq language to mapping port densities

From Mi’kmaq language to mapping port densities

By Glenda McCarthy

CNA’s GIS Applications Specialist (Post Diploma) program has become involved in a number of unique projects as a result of last year’s student-run capstone projects.

The students are using Geographic Information Systems to create unique maps for two special projects – mapping the entire island of Newfoundland in the Mi’kmaq language, and mapping Canadian Port Vessel Densities using Automatic Identification Systems.

CNA is working in collaboration with the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation, the Mi’kmaq Alsumk Mowimsikik Koqoey Association, and Grenfell Campus, Memorial University to create a map of Newfoundland with traditional Mi’kmaq names. According to instructor Darin Brooks, the project is a big undertaking with over 80 place names identified during the student capstone project in 2015. Since the Qalipu hired a full-time GIS technician, the number of place names identified has risen to over 400.

“Everything on the map – all the place names, heights of lands, lakes, towns, oceans, and coves needs to be represented in the Mi’kmaq language. Some of these place names can be fairly long. The initial complication is that there are different ways of spelling these locations in the Mi’kmaq language. Some are widely accepted and some are not. Some are actually Mi’kmaq words and some are translations of English words to Mi’kmaq.”

He says the project is a little more complicated than people would think because there is an extreme cultural sensitivity to a lot of the place names, and they need to make sure they are using the actual place names rather than just translating English to Mi’kmaq.

“We have to work really closely with Qalipu to make sure that any place names we put on the map are vetted by them,” Darin says. “There may be culturally sensitive areas that for some reason we don’t want to identify, or those that are identified for a particular reason.”

Once Phase I is completed, the wall map they will produce will measure 10 feet by 10 feet and will be housed in the Qalipu Community Room on Church Street in Corner Brook. Qalipu also hopes to have a Mi’kmaq artisan hand draw the map on a traditional medium such as parchment.

“The next phase then is to turn it into a web map so it’s more interactive. People can visit online where they can select locations and perhaps pictures could pop up – historical pictures or current pictures, there could be video, more than likely there will be audio with a Mi’kmaq speaker vocalizing the name to hear the proper pronunciation. You can use your imagination of all of the things that could happen once the map is accessible online.”

A GIS student will continue working on the map through the capstone project, starting in January with a focus on obtaining the correct names in the correct places. The intention is to have the project completed by June 2017.

“Now it is really more about putting geometry and labels in the right place. We have most of the names now that we want to put on the map. The bulk of work left is to make sure the translations and spellings are correct and we’re placing text and dots in the right place. If you can imagine a paper map that is eight and a half by 11, placing text and placing dots is different when you have a map that is 10 feet by 10 feet. It will be a process of plotting and editing to figure out how big the dots and text should be,” Darin says.

“There is still a lot of sweat left for sure, but the base map is basically built. I think the names we have in our collection will be the names that we keep. Those still have to be vetted of course but I don’t think we’ll be looking for more names at this point. Adding more names could be a part of Phase III.”

However, he is adamant the project couldn’t have come this far without input from the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation, the Mi’kmaq Alsumk Mowimsikik Koqoey Association, and Grenfell professors Dr. Rainer Baehre (Historical Studies) and Dr. Angela Robinson (Social Cultural Studies) as the sources for the map were varied..

“There were some places we couldn’t find – sometimes we couldn’t even find places on maps. We had to read books and gather anecdotes from people to find places based on their stories. If we couldn’t find a place in a book or a map or through any kind of archives or Internet search, then traditional knowledge had to play a pretty big role,” Darin says.

“People talked to the elders and to members of Qalipu. Some would say ‘oh yeah, I know that place’ or ‘I remember that place. My dad used to say it was such and such.’ It wasn’t recorded anywhere else, but through traditional knowledge it was in people’s heads. We found that quite interesting – that a lot of people were able to pinpoint where things were and there is no way we could have done it without them.”

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