From cognitive maps to transparent static web maps: Tools for indigenous territorial control in La Muskitia, Honduras

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As indigenous groups claim a fundamental role in the governance and management of the territories they inhabit, the evolution of digital and Web-based maps continues to offer tools that support these activities, while demonstrating to state governments, educators, and others the distinct indigenous concepts and practices inscribed on the Earth's surface. However, making map vector files available to the public can be problematic, because the indigenous stakeholders and their academic colleagues must relinquish control of how the data are displayed by the end user. The indigenous Miskitu, Tawahka, and Pech of Honduras, with university-based geographers, are developing a solution for keeping the original and intended design: transparent static maps (overlays) created in a GIS and made publicly viewable as raster tiles over a free virtual globe. The pioneering Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve participatory research mapping (PRM) project produced and published large-scale paper maps of the communities and their land use in and around the reserve in 1998-1999. Due to their limited circulation and use, and requests from indigenous authorities for the information they contained, in 2010 indigenous Miskitu and Tawahka leaders and University of Kansas geographers agreed to convert them to digital format for use in the long-term management of their lands, digitizing the PRM hard copy maps into GIS vector files first by 2012, and then finally to Web-based transparent static maps in 2013-2014. The PRM mapping experiences parallel contemporaneous shifts in political and territorial strategies among Honduras' indigenous peoples.

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