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Northern GIS offers mapping, database collection services

Thursday November 24, 2011

Terry Chicago of Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation is using technology that can aid First Nations in mapping their territory, collect traditional data and store it in a database.

His company, Northern GIS, uses geographic information system (GIS) technology to help capture, analyze, store and manipulate geographic data using computer software.

“It’s a tool used to document and combine useful information, so it can be digitized to maps and display it,” he said. “It can be helpful for First Nation communities for asserting their ownerships and attaining control of their lands and natural resources by mapping it and helping to show how they can properly collect their data and traditional knowledge of their lands.”

Chicago grew up in Upsala, Ont. before moving to Thunder Bay about 13 years ago. He had been working in the forestry industry for a number of years. With work moving further away from the city, his boss informed him that upcoming work would require living in a bush camp, something that did not bode well for Chicago.

“I went up to him one day and said ‘I’m gonna go back to school.’ Just like that,” he said.
Without a Grade 12 education, Chicago took academic upgrading at Confederation College for a year, before taking pre-technology for another.

Then he enrolled in the two-year environmental technician program and graduated before taking an additional two years of environmental studies and forestry conservation training at Lakehead University.

While studying, Chicago was employed at the college over the summers and was introduced to Dave Mackett, who was spearheading a spiritual ecological knowledge initiative.

“So he brought me on and I learned quite a bit doing a lot of the GIS work and working with traditional knowledge,” he said. “I think they liked what I was doing there so they brought me on again and I think I worked there for four summers straight.”

While working the last summer at the college, Chicago met Jordan Shannon, who had graduated from the GIS Technologist program at Algonquin College.

“I guess we just met and hit it off because we had been working in the same field for a number of years,” Chicago recalled.

Shannon is originally from Atikokan and had worked with Rainy River First Nation in helping build a GIS and traditional knowledge database.

Seeing the similarities in their fields and interests, Chicago proposed an idea to Shannon.
“Why don’t we do this for ourselves? We both do this and get along pretty good,” Chicago said.
This led to the formation of Northern GIS, which has been in existence for more than a year. So far, they have worked with several Native and non-Native organizations and communities using their expertise.

“Right now, we’ve worked with Mitaanjigamiing First Nation, helping them with community database and also their flood claim that they’re working on,” he said. “So we’re working with them and doing mapping of a lot of their traditional areas and we can do a whole lot of custom mapping.”

The company also wants to offer GIS training to communities so they can be familiarized with it and how it can help them and their community.

“We want to do training and traditional data collection training, the methodology of how to collect data so it’s not redundant,” he said. “And we’re doing community database creation also for communities, which is all information they gather.”

Chicago said they’ve faced challenges that all new companies face.

“The biggest challenge is getting our name out there,” he said. “We’re just trying to start off slowly here and get our name out there. We’re pretty committed to this and it keeps us busy.”


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