The Importance of “Where”

By Lacee Cofer, THPO Chief Data Analyst

Whether it’s researching a Seminole event that happened 100 years ago, or consulting with a federal agency on a project set to happen this year, we always ask the question, “Where?” The importance of place is integral to the work of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). This is where the THPO Archaeometry team comes into play, to create maps to show exactly “where” things are happening.  The team is taking a unique approach to mapping in one of our biggest projects yet –an Ethnographic Study of the Seminole Tribe of Florida in the South Florida region.

Figure 1. Map depicting approximate project study area

An Ethnographic Study, or Ethnography, is a description of a group of people and their customs. THPO is taking a new approach to the concept of an ethnography to describe the Seminole Tribe of Florida, their customs, and how those customs relate to the utilization of land and water in the Everglades. Considering this, the team is seeking to protect the important cultural and environmental resources from future impacts due to Everglades restoration projects initiated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Multiple USACE projects fall within the identified study area, however the study area goes beyond current project boundaries, aiding in its relevancy for future use. The goal is to utilize information compiled during the study to aid the Tribe in federal consultation projects that affect the future of the Everglades.

Figure 2. Work being done to drain the Everglades in 1906

So what does an Ethnographic Study have to do with mapping? A whole lot, actually! While the final document will contain maps that show areas of interest and concern for the Tribe, we first have to collect locational information from the Tribal Community that is shareable and does not contain any sensitive data that the community would like to keep private. This method of mapping, or collecting spatial data from community members, is called participatory mapping.

The THPO has had a strong participatory mapping program for several years. This includes using paper maps and having Tribal Members draw locations of significant events, camps, or other cultural resources onto the maps. Once a Tribal Member provides us this information, we digitize and secure the data to keep it safe and private and archive the paper maps for safe keeping. These maps are only accessible to a limited number of staff, but are available for Tribal member use.

Figure 3. Quenton Cypress works the participatory mapping booth at the 2015 Big Cypress Cattle Drive

We are hoping to have strong participation from members of the community to provide spatial data in relation to the Ethnographic Study. Our goal is for this project to bridge the communication gap between the Tribe and outside agencies whose projects impact the land. We want to reduce the confusion caused by unfamiliar terminology by using place names known to the Tribal community. The Tribe’s voice will be strengthened, and the connection the Tribe has to the land and water will be understood and respected by outside agencies during their consultations.

To help explain the project to the community, provide an opportunity for feedback, and request participation, the Ethnographic Study team is in the process of creating a Story Map to do just that. The Story Map will describe the Ethnographic Study, current federal projects the Tribe is consulting on, staff working on the project, and how to get involved! Keep an eye out for the upcoming Story Map, and you may have the opportunity to help us answer the question, “Where?” If you have any questions about participatory mapping at the THPO, please contact Chief Data Analyst, Lacee Cofer, at laceecofer@semtribe.com.

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