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Mobilizing Indigenous Knowledge with ArcGIS at the SNP STEAM Academy

Indigenous history is paramount in understanding the roots of Canada. This month we celebrate this deep and significant history with a story about how educators at the Six Nations Polytechnic STEAM Academy are using ArcGIS to teach Indigenous history and geography to their students.

In celebration of National Indigenous History Month, we want to highlight the use of ArcGIS in teaching Indigenous history and geography at the Six Nations Polytechnic (SNP) STEAM Academy in Brantford, Ontario. This unique and innovative high school program focuses on the use of technology to create student pathways to high-skilled jobs. Here, Indigenous and non-Indigenous students can take high school and college level courses (as early as grade 10) across the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).

Students in front of a computer screen in a class.

“The SNP STEAM Academy is a grade 9-14 technology-rich secondary school where students create their own pathways to high-skilled jobs. Students will begin taking college courses as early as grade 10 and will finish the program in 5 - 6 years with both an Ontario Secondary School Diploma and a post-secondary qualification.” – SNP Academy Image from @SNPolytechnic Twitter account.

Integrating ArcGIS into the curriculum at SNP STEAM Academy

Christopher Martin is the reason ArcGIS was introduced at the school. He used it in a past position as a Climate Change Adaptation Planner at the Six Nations Elected Council Environment Office. Through his work experience, he understood the value of ArcGIS as an effective tool for teaching and learning, as well as for monitoring climate change. So, he decided to bring it to teachers and students at the SNP STEAM Academy.

Currently, Christopher is an education assistant and the ArcGIS advocate at the SNP STEAM Academy. He supports a variety of classes that include science, geography, math and English. Christopher often collaborates with teachers to localize and as he puts it to “Indigenize” class activities – making them relevant and inclusive from an Indigenous perspective. He recently introduced ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Story Maps to a couple of grade 9 geography teachers at the school who came up with a great activity for their classes.

A man standing and smiling.

Christopher is the reason ArcGIS is being used at the school. In a past position as a Climate Change Adaptation Planner at the Six Nations Elected Council Environment Office, he was introduced to ArcGIS by his manager. 

Mapping Hodinohso:ni Land from pre-contact to present-day

Teachers Kali Anevich and Brittany Trosko from the SNP STEAM Academy shared their experiences of using ArcGIS to engage students and to teach Indigenous history and geography through the use of technology. As co-teachers, they put together an ArcGIS Online activity that is connected to the grade 9 geography unit – Changing Populations and Understanding Human Interactions. The learning goals included:

  • Students will understand the distribution and characteristics of human settlement in Canada that are determined by many factors and may change over time
  • They will analyse patterns of population settlement and connect the ways identity is tied to the natural landscape.

Kali and Brittany wanted to ensure this activity would allow students to connect with the Indigenous history and geography of the area, whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous, living in Six Nations or Brantford. This is why they had the students use ArcGIS Online to learn about Hodinohso:ni Land from pre-contact to present day.

Young woman smiling with sunglasses on, crouching close to shore on white rocks.

“At SNP STEAM Academy we have a combination of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and part of the vision of our school is to mobilize Indigenous knowledge and content across curriculum so that the Indigenous students see themselves in the curriculum and the non-Indigenous students are able to expand their understanding of Indigenous culture and history to become active allies.” – Kali

The students used Map Notes in ArcGIS Online to draw the following areas on their web maps, as described by Kali:

  • The Traditional territory of the five original nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga & Seneca)
  • The Haldimand Tract which was the land promised to the Hodinohso:ni people after being displaced from their lands during the American Revolution
  • The present day Six Nations Reserve - all that was left of the promised land due to illegal leasing, squatters, and land stolen from the Hodinohso:ni people. 

In the process of map making, the students learned about the Indigenous history and geography of the area, as they could visualize the connections between past and present population distribution and settlement patterns of the Hodinohso:ni people, including the drastic changes in land size, and locations of the population. This was more effective than reading about it in a book.

“The Hodinohso:ni Land mapping assignment was a great example of the vision of mobilizing Indigenous Knowledge. We have a Hodinohso:ni female student and a non-Indigenous male student who were able to thrive with this assignment  and create meaningful maps of Hodinohso:ni Land; traditional land and present-day land.” – Kali

A map showing different coloured polygons that represent the traditional territory of the 5 nations of the Hodinohso:ni people.

Kaiya Davis, a grade 9 Hodinohso:ni student from Six Nations created this map showing the pre-contact traditional territory of the five original nations of the Hodinohso:ni people and The Haldimand Tract which was the land promised to the Hodinohso:ni people after being displaced from their lands during the American Revolution.

Student Feedback

A teenaged girl smiling.

Kaiya Davis, a grade 9 Hodinohso:ni student shared her thoughts on the mapping activity. “I'm from the Mohawk Nation and Turtle Clan. My Mohawk name is Teiekahri:ios. It was really interesting to know where the original territories were, and to see how big the original Haldimand tract was compared to the land that is left now. I found ArcGIS Online easy to map these historical areas."

A map showing The Haldimand Tract which was the land promised to the Hodinohso:ni people after being displaced from their lands during the American Revolution and the current Six Nations Reserve in Southwestern Ontario.

This story map was created by Eli, a non-Indigenous student.  He highlighted the timeline of changes to Hodinohso:ni Land. You are taken on a journey through time of the Hodinohso:ni people. “I found it very interesting to learn just how much Hodinohso:ni land shrunk over time.” – Eli

Upcoming ArcGIS activities

Christopher recognizes there are a lot of ArcGIS possibilities at SNP STEAM Academy and has many ideas for the new school year. As the lead of the Ohnegi’yo Project, he encourages students to connect their actions, as he says “to their inherent responsibility to water.” This is why he plans to use ArcGIS Survey123 for a field study on the ecosystems around Six Nations of the Grand River and Brantford, Ontario. He would like the school to have a cross-curricular data hub for ecological data for water quality, Indigenous species health and invasive species growth.

As a big supporter of story maps, he is going to promote the use of them in more classes this fall, along with other professional development opportunities to highlight the use of ArcGIS for teaching and learning. Christopher has, “a dream to get students at the school to mobilize Indigenous Knowledge into technical platforms, like ArcGIS to help preserve language and culture, while also leading the way in re-designed education.”

We thank Christopher, Kali and Brittany for sharing their ArcGIS journey with us. We are excited about their vision of integrating ArcGIS in more classes for the purpose of connecting students to Indigenous Knowledge and understanding at the SNP STEAM Academy. We look forward to hearing more from them in the fall.

New to ArcGIS Online?

If you are new to ArcGIS Online, educators can request an account for themselves and their students at

Check out the following beginner resources to get started with ArcGIS Online:

For Educators - Let’s get started with ArcGIS Online

For Students – Enroute with ArcGIS Online

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

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