Tools, governance and strategic use of community-generated information and data on community lands, resources and well-being

at Kahnawake
at Kahnawake

Tools, governance and strategic use of community-generated information and data on community lands, resources and well-being

The tools, techniques and strategic use of community-based mapping and monitoring by indigenous peoples and local communities across the world was the focus of a three-day workshop held in December.

The workshop, organized by Forest Peoples Programme, was hosted by the Mohawk community of Kahnawà:ke, Canada, who also use monitoring tools to document changes to their ancestral lands and waters.

The workshop was held in early December ahead of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meetings in Montreal and was an opportunity for people from indigenous and local communities as diverse as Aotearoa/New Zealand; Senegal; Thailand and Siberia, to share experiences, and pinpoint challenges and solutions.

The group discussed how monitoring (action) research, tools and technologies, such as maps, websites, and apps, - had the potential to support communities through understanding change and impact and using imagery to visualize those impacts. Another potential or benefit is raising awareness (both within communities as well as to outsiders); by demonstrating ownership and stewardship, and documenting positive or negative impacts. Monitoring steps included gathering information, taking visual evidence through a photo or video, mapping GPS coordinates, recording what happened and when, systematizing the data, and publishing it or using it for advocacy purposes, depending on community agreement of the use of data.

Communities fed back about the range of tools they were using for their monitoring work, including sketch maps, eco-cultural calendars, community-based radio networks, drones, cyber tracking of wildlife, Global Information System (GIS), Landsat and aerial imagery. Trouble shooting and seeking solutions on security issues, risks in collecting data, and the standardization, comparability and aggregation of community-generated data were also covered. The importance of sharing the information was discussed, alongside the risks, such as information publically shared that is no longer under the control of the community, risks of disclosing sensitive data or highly valuable locations, and risks to the safety of community monitors, taking into consideration the worrying increase in violence and killings of environmental defenders.

Caroline de Jong, co-coordinator of the Environmental Governance programme at Forest Peoples Programme, said: “We had rich discussions both in the overall group as well as in small groups on how community control and ownership over the monitoring information can be ensured and strengthened further; and how to minimise dependency (e.g. on ‘technical NGOs’) and maximise autonomy and self-determination. Participants particularly valued the orientation on the existing tools, and time to address questions and raise concerns and needs on key issues like securing democratic use of tools; offline data collection, illiteracy, need to gather data that provides insight in trends and changes over time; and collecting data on issues not necessarily linked to a part of the territory (e.g. on language or knowledge status).”

One section of the workshop focused on international processes that specifically recognize and support (spatial) data collected through community-based monitoring, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)The participants examined forthcoming opportunities towards 2020 and beyond (e.g. the 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook, the 6th national reports under the CBD, the second edition of the Local Biodiversity Outlooks, local stories the context of the SDGs, the IPBES global assessment) and worked in regional groups to discuss (regional/national) opportunities, goals and needs and to make concrete plans to collaborate on this work.

Holding the workshop with members of the Mohawk community of Kahnawà:ke, who also engaged in the workshop, meant participants were able to learn more about the history, culture and governance of their community and federation. The Mohawk have collective ownership over a small area of land, but historic decisions are continuing to negatively impact the community today; in particular, the large St. Lawrence Seaway built in the 1950s has cut the community off from the river, while depriving them of more than 1,200 acres of their land. Access to the river is such an essential part of Mohawk identity that the name of the land ‘Kahnawà:ke’ translates as ‘place by the rapids’. Additionally, two main highways and a railway line cut through the land and the community is faced with a huge (illegal) waste problem, being near one of Canada’s largest urban areas. With their own school, set up to ensure the survival of the Mohawk way of life, the community are working to preserve and revitalise their language, culture and identity, and mapping and monitoring is being carried out to guarantee land is preserved for those future generations and to restore critical biodiversity areas such as the remaining natural river shores where species like birds and turtles take refuge.