Ms. Kirk in Cherokee, NC with some of the tools and materials used in her research.


Using geospatial technologies to preserve Indigenous historical knowledge

Project PI: Joane Nagel, Department of Sociology, University of Kansas

Deborah Kirk, a graduate student in geography at The University of Kansas, and a Native American of the Cherokee Nation, is modeling the historical geographies of her people through the combined analytical tools of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and interactive mapping. Her thesis project is about preserving the historical knowledge of the Cherokee homeland through the use of geospatial technologies. This work will generate an interactive map to be used for educational, historical, and cultural purposes by Cherokee people, the broader public, and scholarship concerned with the mapping of Indigenous geographies.

This research will benefit Cherokee people by contributing critical historical documentation and analysis through accessible tools to educate Tribal citizens of their ancestral homeland. It will also benefit the GIS community by demonstrating how Indigenous GIS can be used for historical and cultural purposes. Educators will find it useful in that it will provide a tool to teach Indigenous geographical history in a way that incorporates Cherokee knowledge using accessible media. More broadly, this project will demonstrate how the development of Indigenous Historical GIS in interactive, online maps can serve the preservation of other Indigenous cultural and geographical histories.

Relying on the recently discovered field notes and maps of Ethnographer, James Mooney (c1887-1916), and the historical syllaberic writings of Cherokee Elders, oral tradition, and Cherokee living memory, this project will demonstrate what is possible when Cherokee perspective and Cherokee collaboration are synthesized with geospatial technology. Indigenous perspective is often overlooked by scholars conducting research on the documentation and analysis of the historical geographies of Indigenous communities. This often leads to incomplete interpretations and further misrepresentations of Indigenous historical landscapes. Accurate data collection, its analysis, and the useful representation of that analysis for Indigenous communities and society as a whole, requires collaboration and interaction with the historical occupants of the land.

Ms. Kirk was supported in her first year as a graduate student by a unique Kansas NSF EPSCoR initiative that provides Pathways for Native American students to seek careers in STEM disciplines. The program forges scholarly collaborations between graduate and undergraduate students at The University of Kansas (KU) and Haskell Indian Nations University. The merit of Ms. Kirk’s research has since been recognized by the National Science Foundation when it awarded her a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship in 2012.

The mentorship of Drs. Jay T. Johnson, KU assistant professor of geography and Joane Nagel, KU University Distinguished Professor of Sociology, was instrumental in Ms. Kirk’s decision to attend the University of Kansas. Her involvement in the Pathways program has allowed her to attend conferences, meet people, and become a part of a student community on the KU campus.


Phase VI Highlights:

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