Whose Land: The app informing users about traditional Indigenous territory

Canadians are becoming more aware of traditional Indigenous territory and treaty land. The Whose Land app is making it easier to acknowledge traditional land. 

While land acknowledgement may be the first step, there’s more than that to reconciliation. 

Victor Temprano was inspired to learn more about traditional Indigenous territories after attending a Trans Mountain pipeline protest in 2014.

Temprano is a non-Indigenous Canadian settler. He said he was mostly unfamiliar with traditional territory, even in his own local area of Okanagan, B.C. 

He started the Native Land project as a hobby. He researched, gathered and mapped geographical data of traditional Indigenous territories. 

The Native Land project, which was started in 2015, now maps Indigenous territory on a global scale. In 2018, Native Land Digital became an Indigenous-led not-for-profit organization. 

“I’m a settler. I’m not Native. I wasn’t trying to make something so that Indigenous people know their traditional territory,” said Temprano. 

“For me, it’s about trying to [educate] the people I grew up with and helping us all learn more.”

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

What is traditional territory? 

Traditional territory “describes the ancestral and contemporary connections of Indigenous peoples to a geographical area,” according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. 

Kinship ties, seasonal travel routes, trade networks, resource management and cultural and linguistic connections can all define traditional territory.

“The broader meaning of traditional territory would really depend on each individual Indigenous person,” said Temprano. “It could be historically inhabited land, it could be hunting areas or cultural areas. There’s many, many definitions.”

Temprano said the goal of Native Land is not academic accuracy. “We hope that a person in that community will look at the map and see themselves represented properly,” he said. 

This meant sources for Native Land came from existing Indigenous maps, oral stories and from community elder interviews. 

Photo by James Wheeler

Whose Land are you on?

In 2018, the global youth education network TakingITGlobal partnered with Temprano to create another Canadian-specific application: Whose Land. 

Using Temprano’s data, Whose Land created a web and mobile app. With GIS technology, users can identify the traditional land they are standing on. They can also watch educational videos and learn about land acknowledgments. 

Barry Smith, a Thorold, Ont. resident, downloaded the app at the end of June 2021. After hearing about the app on Twitter, he said he wanted to learn more about the land he stood on. 

Using Whose Land 

Smith said he is coming to terms with a “painful” history. Like many, the recent discoveries of Indigenous children’s remains at residential schools across the country emotionally affected him.

“History is written by the winners — the people [in] control — and you’ll find that anywhere in the world,” he said. 

“To search out the correct history, you need to go beyond [what’s taught in school] and do your own research.” 

Smith said the Whose Land app was a great starting point.

Using the app, Smith said he can make accurate, informed and personal land acknowledgements. He does this to “give the power back” to Indigenous peoples, he said. 

In practice, land acknowledgements are often done as a courtesy at the start of events or gatherings. A speaker will acknowledge the traditional territory they stand on and to which Indigenous group it belongs before anything else. 

Building a relationship with traditional land

However, Lee Maracle, a Toronto-based Sto:lo poet and author, doesn’t care about these often scripted and stiff land acknowledgements. 

“I don’t care if it’s important to anybody else,” she said. “Every time I opened my mouth from four years old onward, I would acknowledge the land.”

For Maracle and many other Indigenous people, a land acknowledgment is and should be deeply personal. 

“If you want to do a land acknowledgment, figure out how you feel about the land,” she said. 

For Maracle, a land acknowledgement is about respect and permission. She said we need to respect the land and all it provides. This includes asking Indigenous leaders for proper permission to utilize the land.

Temprano and Maracle both said Whose Land is a great starting tool to assess one’s personal connection to the land. 

For Temprano, land acknowledgment is important. It’s a way to respect other people. It’s also a way to be a part of “making society more harmonious, more wholesome and more aware,” he said. 

“There’s also a personal benefit,” he added. “There’s a lot to be learned from engaging deeply with Indigenous history and Indigenous ways of knowing.” 

“That, in turn, lets us all live in more respect with each other. And at the end, it absolutely is about respect,” said Temprano.

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