Originally published on the UA News website by Yara Askar (January 29, 2014).

Excerpt

University of Arizona anthropologist Benedict Colombi is leading a public-private project to help a Russian indigenous people preserve its language and cultural knowledge.

The workshop and mapping project in Kamchatka stemmed from UA anthropologist Benedict Colombi’s work with both indigenous peoples and scholars working in Kamchatka and from Colombi’s book, “Keystone Nations: Indigenous Peoples and Salmon Across the North Pacific.”

The team met with Kamchatka community members and Google Earth Outreach during a workshop held on the UA campus in the fall to discuss how to structure collected data and what mapping tools to use.

Indigenous communities from Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula are dealing with an issue of great concern – the possible impending loss of the Itelmen language, which, in the community of 4,000, is only spoken by roughly one dozen elders.

To ensure that younger generations of the Itelmen ethnic group retain their heritage, University of Arizona anthropologist Benedict Colombi and Tatiana Degai, an Itelmen student pursuing a doctorate in American Indian Studies at the UA, have been working with the community in partnership with Google Earth Outreach, a program supporting non-profit organizations raising awareness of global issues, to create interactive and engaging digital maps of locations that hold cultural and historic significance.

The maps will be customized versions of Google Maps, with information specific to the Kamchatka area, located in far eastern Russia. The maps will be accessible to the world just like other Google maps, although some of the information specific to the community – such as hunting areas – will be visible only to the Kamchatka community.

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The team eventually will map places such as where the indigenous community members gather food, fish and hunt. The maps also will note natural resources and other culturally significant sites, such as historic and sacred areas, the presence of gold as well as oil and gas resources or the migration of salmon.

“We are really focusing on the historical and cultural significance of landscapes for these indigenous groups and also mapping resource development and historical events,” said collaborator Drew Gerkey, an assistant professor of anthropology at Oregon State University. “The maps will include many elements, and they will be based on the needs and recommendations of the indigenous community.”

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Members of the Kamchatka community will be able to include stories, images and multimedia about these locations in the map itself for viewers to explore.

“Using these tools to make a cultural map will allow the community to create a map that accurately reflects their traditional landscape, and will encourage dialogue and sharing of knowledge between generations,” Seamster said. “The Kamchatka Cultural Map they create will be a document that will help them preserve and protect their cultural heritage.”

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