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Crossing scales: A geographical analysis of the transnationalization of indigenous mapping

Final Report Summary - INDIMAP (Crossing scales: A geographical analysis of the transnationalization of indigenous mapping)

This MC-IOF fellowship aimed at a better understanding of Indigenous peoples' territorial claims and their struggle for cultural and political rights. The general goals of the project were to study the practices, representations and geographical imaginations related to Indigenous re-territorialisation. On a specific level, it aimed at examining the role of cartography within these processes. It privileged theoretical perspectives from postcolonial geography, political ecology, critical cartography, and qualitative, intercultural and collaborative research methodologies. Taking into account the North-South diversity of Indigenous realities in the Americas, the project concentrated mainly on two countries: Bolivia and Canada. Beyond divergence of focus and methodologies, research on both sites brought a deep insight into contemporary Indigenous re-territorialisation processes: the first (Bolivia), by the means of the production of an alternative cartography to state mapping, the second (Quebec, Canada) through the construction of a socio-environmental narrative - which includes cartographic representations -, questioning hegemonic visions on hydroelectric development and territorial identity. The results of this fellowship as a whole enrich the social sciences dealing with Indigenous and intercultural land issues, especially Francophone geography where Indigenous geographies are an emerging field of investigation. The results may also be of interest to state actors and policy makers in tune with the intercultural dimensions of territorial development and land planning within modern nation-states in the Americas.

For Bolivia, research was conducted by the fellow (I. Hirt) in collaboration with a PhD student of the University of Geneva (L. Lerch). It focused on the mapping (mural maps and atlases) of ayllus and markas (name of Quechua and Aymara territories in the Bolivian Andes), produced by research and development aid projects in the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s. These documents were studied in relation with their social, methodological and technical making, in order to uncover territorial ideologies, as well as the sets of actors, political controversies and interests at stake. The analysis showed that these maps challenged, for the first time in the country's history, hegemonic representations of national space, contributing at the same time to underline the complexity of mapping Indigenous Andean territorialities (territorial discontinuities, rural-urban relations, dynamic boundaries, etc.). On the other side, however, their making remained subordinated to the financing and objectives of development aid agencies, who made use of some of the maps for geopolitical ends. Therefore, although the maps contributed to the controversies on the internal decolonization of the Bolivian state and territory, they confirmed to some extent the neocolonial dependence of the country towards the North. The social impacts of these maps were also examined in relation with later processes of formal acknowledgment of Indigenous lands by the Bolivian state: first, land reforms in favor of Indigenous peoples via the creation of collective indigenous property titles, the Tierras Comunitarias de Origen (TCO) in 1996 (INRA law); second, politico-administrative restructuration by means of the New Political Constitution of 2009 and the formation of Indigenous autonomies (see Hirt, Lerch, 2013). In the second part of the Bolivian section of the project, we examined the attempts at conciliation of land conflicts between the departments of Oruro and Potosí by the central state in Bolivia through participatory georeferencing. These conflicts are characterized by a set of multi-scalar and political issues, involving land claims of Indigenous Andean communities - supported by nongovernmental organizations and international development aid agencies -, as well as departmental elites trying to capture the incomes of lithium. Questioning the balance between delimitation methods and geographical scale, the research brought to light the demographical and geopolitical issues at stake in these land conflicts, and proposed a topological analysis of Indigenous land claims superimpositions (TCO) enabling the identification of major conflict areas and the presence of competing national or international actors (see Hirt, Lerch, 2012).

These results were partially presented in La Paz during March 2012 to a Bolivian audience. They are a noteworthy contribution to the understanding of the increasing political movement of Indigenous peoples in Bolivia for the acknowledgement of their territoriality since the 1990s, since very little work has until now focused on the role and impact of mapping on these realities. These results also contribute to border studies, insofar they tackle issues of internal geopolitics and internal borders, insufficiently addressed in this field until now. Both articles originally written in French are currently being translated into Spanish to make them available for the involved populations and a larger public in South America.

In Quebec (Canada), research aimed at the implementation of collaborative and intercultural methodologies for the elaboration of a socio-environmental narrative on hydroelectric development from an Ilnu perspective. The research concept and objectives were established following collaborative protocols of investigation, on the basis of a partnership between the Ilnu community of Mashteuiatsh of Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean (the Band Council of Mashteuiatsh, its Cultural Heritage Committee and the Musée Amérindien de Mashteuiatsh) and a research team of Laval University (Prof. C. Desbiens, and the fellow). The agreement reached with the community was to work on the impacts of hydroelectric dams on the Peribonca River, which is part of the Ilnus' ancestral territory and once one of their major canoe roads to the North. Included into a "Community-University Research Alliance" (CURA) of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the project has been called "Thishipiminu: occupation ilnu de la rivière Péribonka et barrages hydroélectriques”. In the framework of the community's cultural re-affirmation policy, such a project is perceived as a symbolic mean of territorial re-appropriation. Fieldwork was carried out in the summer and autumn of 2012 with comprehensive interviews and fieldtrips to the hydroelectric dams on the Peribonca River, as well as archival research.

The result outcome of this collaboration is a panel exhibition which will be presented at the Musée Amérindien de Mashteuiatsh from November 6th, 2013, to February 28th, 2014. It will possibly be disseminated in other Indigenous communities of Quebec North Shore. Besides, joint publications with Prof. C. Desbiens and research partners from the Mashteuiatsh community are forthcoming. As a result, not only will this project bring an interesting insight into past and present Ilnu geographies relating to hydroelectric development but it hopes to constitute a significant effort towards the implementation of research ethics and collaborative methodologies for sustainable partnerships between university researchers and Indigenous communities in Quebec.

Contact: irene.hirt@unige.ch/irene.b.hirt@gmail.com