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GIS in Mining: Strengthening Indigenous Communities

In the heart of Canada's mining landscape lies a crucial barrier: how can communities effectively engage with and understand the complexities of mining processes? This question forms the crux of our dialogue with Jenny Campbell, a Policy Analyst deeply engaged in the Anishinabek Nation's community development and mining resource management. 

Nestled across the vast Canadian landscape, the Anishinabek Nation is comprised of 39 distinct First Nations, each bearing rich cultural heritage and history. Spanning from the eastern shores of the Atlantic to the western reaches of the Great Lakes, these Indigenous communities have long stewarded the land, their legacy intertwined with the sweeping panoramas of forests, rivers, and mountains that define their ancestral territories. With a deep-rooted connection to the land and a tradition of harmonious coexistence with nature, the Anishinabek people bring centuries of wisdom and understanding to the forefront of modern challenges, including those posed by the mining industry. 
The journey toward addressing this challenge began with a resolution. The chiefs and counsel within their respective First Nations recognized the need for governance and sought solutions to strengthen their communities. Leveraging the Esri Advantage Program (AP), the Anishinabek Nation embarked on a path toward enhancing their understanding of governance structures and decision-making processes. As the initiative gained momentum, a joint effort with the Province of Ontario aimed at educating the public about various initiatives became a focal point. This collaborative effort fostered a rich exchange of ideas, leading to the evolution of strategies and practices. 

Problem: Understanding the Complexity of Mining Processes 

Mining claims on Indigenous land can be made by non-Indigenous companies in Canada without consultation. This lack of visibility may result in missed opportunities for communities to assert their rights and intervene in the process, undermining Indigenous sovereignty and community management efforts. Furthermore, the absence of centralized information prevents non-web-savvy individuals from accessing this publicly available data. Communication barriers make it difficult for individuals to engage meaningfully in discussions surrounding mining activities within their territory. As a result, many communities feel disconnected from the decision-making process, leading to a lack of trust and transparency. 

Mapping for Communication and Understanding 

Mapping, Jenny emphasizes, serves as a universal language, capable of sparking conversations regardless of one's prior knowledge or expertise in geographic information systems (GIS). 

Jenny Campbell, Policy Analyst with the Anishinabek Nation says, "I think mapping's important to me because it's a really great tool to communicate with a wide range of audiences within our First Nations communities."

Jenny underscores the need for increased awareness about ArcGIS, highlighting its potential to develop communities through knowledge-building and relationship-building. "There needs to be more conversations around ArcGIS and the tools that it can offer to our First Nations," she urges, emphasizing the opportunities it presents for informed decision-making within Indigenous communities. 

Solution: From Legacy Systems to Modern Methods 

To tackle the complexities of transitioning to modern GIS tools in the mining sector, First Nations have embraced solutions like the Mining Information application using ArcGIS, and support from Esri Canada with the Esri Advantage Program. This interactive solution offers improved visibility into both new and existing claims, enabling First Nations to better monitor activities occurring on their lands. These initiatives offer better stewardship of the land and data sovereignty, tailoring GIS solutions to community needs. Additionally, the integration of ArcGIS Survey123 facilitates data collection for land usage and protection areas. Through comprehensive training, staff members stay updated on evolving software, gaining transferable skills for informed decision-making and community development. 
Jenny acknowledges the difficulties faced by communities, including slow data loading times exacerbated by broadband issues. However, she remains optimistic about the transformative power of accessible technology in overcoming these difficulties. 
"There are the story maps that we created on the Anishinabek GeoHub with a focus on everything and anything mining-related," Jenny explains, showcasing the tangible outcomes of their efforts. ArcGIS StoryMaps, she emphasizes, contribute to accessibility, enabling individuals to navigate various mining-related aspects with ease. “They are a tool that allows communities to explore the mining sequence – from claim to closure – in an interactive and engaging format.” 

A person looking at the Anishinabek Mining Resources Hub on a laptop.

The Anishinabek Mining Resources Hub is a collection of mining information StoryMaps for education, awareness and outreach to the Anishinabek First Nations.

Benefits: Advancing Communities with Updated Information 

Communities with up-to-date information can make better-informed decisions, participate actively in mining processes, and seek solutions among stakeholders for more sustainable outcomes. Through ArcGIS, communities gain access to instantaneous, updated information essential for informed decision-making. These tools not only enhance understanding but also stimulate engagement and participation in mining processes, amplifying the impact of informed decision-making on community development and resource management. 
In a demonstration of the Mining Resources StoryMaps, Jenny illustrates how these tools provide communities with valuable insights into mining activities, gaining a deeper understanding of their implications. By simplifying complex data and making it more manageable, these applications pave the way for enhanced community involvement and cohesion. 

Screenshot of a mining claim application created by Esri Canada for the Anishinabek Nation. Map of Northern Ontario, the selection of Serpent River First Nation shows an area with a radius of 25 km indicating 529 mining claims.

Jenny Campbell displays the Anishinabek Nation's Mining Database, showing 529 claims within 25km of Serpent River First Nation in Northern Ontario.

The use of Esri technology plays a pivotal role in creating access to subject matter experts. Through communicating with GIS, each of the Anishinabek First Nations can seamlessly connect with experts, access resources, and navigate complex information about governance and resource management. This technological advancement not only streamlines communication channels, it fortifies communities to make informed decisions and actively participate in shaping their future. 

Results: Striking Gold 

Community members now have access to valuable resources and tools that enable them to actively participate in discussions surrounding mining activities. Increased engagement and cooperation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and the mining industry across Canada are evident, signaling a positive shift towards more inclusive and transparent decision-making processes. 

  1. Heightened Accessibility: StoryMaps and modernized GIS tools enhance the accessibility of mining information for communities, breaking down barriers to engagement and understanding. 
  2. Informed Decision-Making: Communities are equipped with updated information, assisting them to make informed choices regarding mining activities and ensuring that their voices are heard and respected. 
  3. Enhanced Community Understanding: Through interactive workshops and storytelling tools, communities gain a deeper understanding of the implications of mining activities, fostering a sense of connection and ownership. 
  4. Increased Collaboration: Dialogue and coordination between stakeholders are fostered, promoting a culture of inclusivity, cooperation and paving the way for more sustainable and equitable mining practices.  

Looking Ahead: Informed Choices and Resilient Communities 

Jenny reflects on the journey ahead: "It's just the first step of many," she notes, highlighting the importance of ongoing learning and development. “By equipping communities with the knowledge and tools they need, we can empower them to navigate the complexities of mining processes confidently.” 
Through the integration of traditional knowledge and contemporary technologies, Jenny will build bridges between Indigenous communities, the mining industry, and broader society. Together, they can foster a deeper understanding of mining processes, enable communities to make informed choices and ultimately enrich the fabric of our shared landscape. 

New to Geographic Information System (GIS) Technology? 

Find out What Is GIS?
Learn how Indigenous Nations strengthen resource management and environmental stewardship with GIS on our Indigenous Stories resources page.

About the Author

Rosalyn Laiken is a Marketing Specialist for Esri Canada. She focuses on industry solutions marketing and is passionate about exploring the intersection of technology with people. She has two decades of international marketing experience in IT marketing, as well as C-level marketing consulting. Rosalyn holds a bachelor of commerce majoring in marketing from Carleton University. She lived in South Korea and Australia for eight years, and loves using real-time spatial data while paragliding. When she is not glued to her computer, Rosalyn enjoys yoga, travelling, live music and exploring new cuisines.

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