Skip to main content

Dr Garfield Giff: February’s GIS Ambassador

Meet February’s GIS Ambassador Dr Garfield Giff from Inuvik, Northwest Territories! Find out how he has been promoting the importance of geography and GIS to K-12 schools in the Western Arctic!

Dr Garfield Giff from the Aurora Research Institute (ARI) in Inuvik, Northwest Territories is February’s GIS Ambassador of the month! Let’s learn more about him and the work he’s been doing in the Western Arctic.

As the manager of GIS Programs at the ARI, Garfield promotes the use of geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing to community members, businesses, and researchers, in hopes of getting them to integrate these tools for their decision making and business processes. Since Inuvik is an administrative and research centre in the region, there are many opportunities to use GIS in important ways, such as monitoring climate change and mapping traditional land uses of Indigenous people. He believes “the stronger the GIS literacy is in a community, the more empowered it will be to take information management and analysis into their own hands and allowing them to act on their knowledge.”

He’s also involved in promoting GIS to K-12 teachers and students in the Northwest Territories.  In the last year, Garfield along with representatives from Parks Canada, Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) and the Western Arctic Centre for Geomatics (WACG) presented to elementary and high school students over three days in November during GeoWeek that included GIS Day.

Dr Garfield Giff, promoting the importance of GIS and geography to students in the Western Arctic.

Garfield and the other GIS professionals covered many topics with the students from East Three Secondary School in Inuvik. They learned about different applications of GIS and discovered career opportunities within their own community.  They had an opportunity to visit activity stations highlighting different topics related to mapping and GIS. The activities included:

  • Station 1: Introduced mapping basics and topographic map reading
  • Station 2:  A demonstration on the use of wildlife collars and telemetry to track caribou movements
  • Station 3: Introduction to remote sensing with a fun landform discovery and matching activity using Earth Imagery
  • Station 4: Examples of GIS Story Map applications such as the Gwich’in Place Names Atlas and the Naonaiyaotit Traditional Knowledge Project Atlas

Over two days at East Three Elementary School, Garfield and the GIS group presented a story map about geography, GIS, and applications of GIS. ENR and WACG led their activities on wildlife monitoring and remote sensing, and then the students were introduced to maps and cartography by allowing them to explore a Giant Canadian Geographic Floor Map. The students worked collaboratively to create their own map by tracing sections of the Mackenzie Delta, learning about various map elements that included the legend, North Arrow, scale and symbology during the process.

Hayleigh Conaway of Parks Canada perfoms map reading exercises on the giant floor map with students of East Three Elementary School.

At the end of November, Garfield and the ARI GIS group continued their GIS outreach by travelling to Helen Kalvak School in Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories. They worked with grades 4-12 students in this small hamlet. They were all introduced to geography and GIS concepts and were given an opportunity to be involved in some interactive sessions. The elementary students explored cartographic principles on a giant floor map and created a community map collaboratively. While the older students learned about applications of GIS in their community, including heritage mapping.

Students of the Helen Kalvak School in Ulukhaktok exploring GIS applications during a GIS Day event. 

Even though Garfield is a busy professional, he shared with us the reasons why he makes it a priority to support educators and students in the Western Arctic. “Being a GIS Ambassador and supporting the use of GIS in K-12 education is important to me as it allows me to engage students in a fun and interesting way, while still supporting digital literacy, and GIS education and skills in schools.  I hope my work as a GIS Ambassador sparks an interest in students that will last a lifetime. The exposure to GIS allows students to interact with information in a very powerful way, with hands on creation, viewing, analysis and presentation of data. Seeing the look of amazement on their faces is so rewarding.”

Garfield giving a cartography lesson to students of the Helen Kalvak School in Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories.

Garfield has received a lot of positive feedback on the support he and the other GIS professionals have provided to the schools. Teachers and administrators can integrate GIS into their classes by using ArcGIS Online - a web-based GIS that’s available for free to all K-12 teachers and students in Canada. Northwest Territories teachers can request a free ArcGIS Online account for themselves and their students in the NWT Schools  subscription. They can access free resources at to get started.

Ephraim Warren, the principal of Mangilaluk School in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories shared his feedback about Garfield – “Garfield’s visit with our students last year was very engaging and was appreciated by all.  The floor map was a great experience for our students as they had an opportunity to explore all of Canada.  The activities with GIS on the computers were very engaging.  This sparked great interest with many of our students. This allowed students to work with different programs, and to see the scope of employment outside of their community.  We value the time that Garfield put into coming to our school and we welcome him to work with our staff and students in the future.”

In March, Garfield will be visiting the Inualthuyak School in Sachs Harbour, Northwest Territories. He will be presenting to students from grades 4-10. They will have the opportunity to explore a giant floor map and learn about careers and applications of GIS in their community, including ways it is used in mapping traditional land uses.

We look forward to supporting events Garfield and his colleagues will be running this year. Thank you for your commitment to sharing your passion for geography and GIS with professionals and youth in your community.

Read other inspiring stories about GIS Ambassadors in Canada who are supporting teachers in their community. K-12 teachers can request to connect with an ambassador in your area.

About the Author

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Specialist in the Esri Canada Education and Research group. She has over 15 years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela focuses on producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum-specific resources, and conducting and creating custom workshops for educators. She manages the GIS Ambassador Program and is the Technical Chair for the annual Skills Ontario GIS competition. Angela also writes monthly posts for the Esri Canada Education and Research blog, highlighting K-12 educators and partners, new ArcGIS resources and GIS-related events.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander