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Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

This guide will help you get started with understanding what GIS is, the nature of geospatial data used in GIS, and how to get started using GIS for your research.


Critical Cartography - A critical cartography is the idea that maps – like other texts such as the written word, images, or film – are not (and cannot be) value-free or neutral. Maps reflect and perpetuate relations of power, more often than not in the interests of dominant groups.

Characteristics of Critical Geography (Bloomley, 2006)

  • It is oppositional: it targets dominant forms of oppression or inequalities
  • It is activist and practical: it wishes to change the world
  • It is theoretical: it rejects positivist explanation and embraces critical social theory

Spatial Justice - The fair and equitable distribution in space of socially valued resources and opportunities to use them. Locational discrimination created through the biases imposed on certain populations because of their geographical location is fundamental in the production of spatial injustice and the creation of lasting spatial structures of privilege and advantage (Soja, 2009)

Decolonizing GIS Mapping Practices

To decolonize GIS mapping practices, consider the following questions:

  • How can you ensure that GIS ecosystems are designed and function in ways that enable Indigenous Peoples to benefit?
  • Are Indigenous Peoples in control of their own GIS data? Do they determine the ways in which their geographic indicators are represented?
  • How are you fulfilling your responsibility to not only ensure that Indigenous Peoples are represented in mapping but also foster positive relationships that lead to more mapping collaborations with Indigenous Peoples?
  • What steps have you taken to protect Indigenous rights and well-being across GIS ecosystems and ensure justice for all?

Kelsey Leonard, 2021 Putting Indigenous Place-Names and Languages Back on Maps

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