After years of hard work, the Wapichan people of southern Guyana have finalised their community map, which demonstrates the full extent of the Wapichan territory and the customary use of the land and resources by the Wapichan communities. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Working Group on Article 8(j) and Related Provisions (WG8(j)-6) meeting in Montreal was used as an opportunity to present this map to the public. The international audience was greatly impressed by this community-based initiative and praised its value.
It took the Wapichan people many years to develop their community map. Local mappers, trained in GPS technology, mapped the entire Wapichan territory and, with the help of elders and resource users, documented all indigenous place names and activities particular to certain areas. Once the data was processed, the community map was created with different symbols for each of the resources, showing where they are located and what they are used for.
The Wapichan communities in the Rupununi region will use this map as a key tool to address and discuss matters affecting their traditional lands and territories. One problem is that they lack secure land and resource rights. The map exposes the fact that existing land titles neither recognise the traditional system of land tenure nor adequately protect the traditional settlement and land-use system. It was of particular use recently, when a protected area was proposed, half of which would overlap Wapichan territory. The map will also play an important role in addressing other threats to Wapichan lands, such as mining, agricultural development, oil exploration, logging concessions, illegal hunters, and infrastructure projects and it will be fundamental in assisting discussions and inter-community agreements on land and resource management issues. (Click on the image on the right to see an enlarged section of the map.)
At various side events during the WG8(j) meeting in Montreal, the Wapichan were asked to present their map and demonstrate its use. These presentations were met with great enthusiasm and interest. The CBD Secretariat, as well as the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB), stressed the importance and value of such community-based mapping initiatives as they complement and enhance data on land-use patterns generated by governments and other parties. In particular, the IIFB Working Group on Indicators (which works on the development of indicators to measure implementation of the Convention) expressed support of community mapping. They identified its use as a methodology for assessing status and trends in land-use change and land security in the traditional territories of indigenous and local communities, and also as a means to provide information on status and trends in the practice of traditional occupations. As a consequence, community-based mapping has been proposed as a key methodology to collect and anayse data for assessing trends in land-use change and land security to be considered for adoption at the next Conference of the Parties (COP10).
More Indigenous mapping Other indigenous peoples have carried out mapping exercises similar to the Wapichan's: the Lokono and Kalin'a of Marowijne in Suriname, and the Karen and Hmong of northern Thailand (click on the map link to see further detail). Baka communities in south-east Cameroon have used their maps to monitor illegal logging in their forests. (See the link to a short BBC video.)