We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.


Living Proof: The Essential Data-Collection Guide for Indigenous Use-and-Occupancy Map Surveys

By Terry Tobias

Review By Thomas McIlwraith

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 169 Spring 2011  | p. 143-145

Do maps speak for themselves? Terry Tobias insists that indigenous land use and occupancy maps must speak loudly and clearly, and he demonstrates that they can if rigorous research and methodological standards are followed. Tobias explains this in Living Proof, a spectacular handbook that lays out an effective process for the production of thematic maps detailing indigenous uses of the land. In it, Tobias notes that indigenous groups throughout Canada and elsewhere are producing land-use maps as central components of their negotiations with governments and industrial developers. His goal is to establish a process for generating the data with which these maps are created. In doing so, Tobias asserts a methodological standard against which use and occupancy maps can be evaluated. 

Living Proof is a massive book. Its large-format pages display effectively more than 70 full- colour maps and dozens of tables and figures. The language used in the book is straightforward. The jargon of cartography, geography, and social science research is defined clearly, often with the aid of tables and figures. The advantages and disadvantages of project design decisions, such as paying high honoraria or using group interviews are, for example, presented in tabular form. The readable style and the pairing of text and tables offset the physically intimidating size of the volume. The result is a handbook that is accessible to readers with different backgrounds and levels of research experience. The scale of production is enormous, too. The book took most of ten years to research and write. It includes extensive quotations about best mapping and research practices from more than 120 practitioners of use and occupancy mapping. Tobias’s inclusion of the voices of indigenous people, academics, consultants, and government representatives in the text gives readers the opportunity to hear directly from the people with expertise in preparation and use of land use maps. 

Living Proof is directed largely at indigenous communities and their researchers. It emphasizes the creation of map biographies – maps generated from interviews with indigenous participants that depict land use and occupancy for specified time periods and locations – as the central thematic maps in a community’s cartographic collection. The book begins with an extended example of a mapping project in the Tseil-Waututh indigenous community of Greater Vancouver. It is written in part by Chief Leah George-Wilson and illustrates her community’s experience of using Tobias’s methods from inception through to design and on to final map production. Each subsequent chapter of Living Proof demonstrates a different part of the mapping process. Included first are general observations about using and reading map biographies. The heart of the book consists of lesson-like accounts of the techniques for eliciting data that can be plotted on maps. Tobias discusses, for example, managing projects and designing interview questionnaires. He delves into minutiae, such as the importance of choosing the right nib size for a mapping pen. While anachronistic to current computer-assisted map-makers, mapping pens are necessary for producing working maps in the field. And tips related to cartography, such as reading map scales or understanding contour lines, are scattered throughout. Examples of map-biography projects are numerous. They come from community mapping projects from across Canada and one chapter is devoted to an Australian example. 

Chapter 12 “Recording Spatial Data,” exemplifies Tobias’s style and Living Proof’s perspective. This chapter presents conventions for coding the data on maps. Several figures, complete with “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” icons, contrast effective and problematic techniques for marking maps with point, line, and polygon data. The chapter offers a strategy for conducting a map-centred interview. And it includes more than 20 coloured maps showing examples of good and poor use of map symbols. It is incredibly detailed and leaves little room for variation in style, which reflects Tobias’s message: standardized methods for the preparation and presentation of land-use maps improve the likelihood that the maps will be understood. 

The volume does provoke questions of audience for these maps. The implied audiences are governments and industrial developers – those groups with whom indigenous communities seek dialogue through maps. While good maps do speak for themselves, the messages they impart may be interpreted differently by different audiences. Indigenous cartographers may identify and emphasize the places where moose were killed on kill maps, for instance, but such maps also show where moose have not been killed – should developers choose to read them that way. The standards established by Living Proof limit misinterpretations by enabling recipients of these maps to see clearly their value and limitations. Map-based consultations will be improved if both cartographers and map readers use this manual. 

Living Proof is informed by academics, consultants, and the principles of good social science research. It emphasizes careful data collection and leaves the production of maps to cartographers and technicians. It sets a high standard for the research central to generating the information plotted on use and occupancy maps, and is a reference that will be used by community-based researchers and academics with an interest in indigenous land use into the future. I expect that governments and courts will pay attention to it, too, as they seek criteria for evaluating the aboriginal rights and title arguments which can stem from map biographies. 

Do maps speak? Good maps do. If the methods and standards set by Tobias in Living Proof are followed, use and occupancy maps will speak loudly and clearly, and be listened to.

Living Proof: The Essential Data-Collection Guide for Indigenous Use-and-Occupancy Map Surveys
By Terry Tobias