Mapping Historical Landscapes

Mapping Historical LandscapesThe cultural heritage of a people is comprised of thousands of years of tradition and lifeways. It embodies a people’s connection to its history, customs and place. The recognition and incorporation of these values into conservation planning can in many cases make or break a project. We, as humans, have inherited a universal right and responsibility to have access to natural areas, clean air, and clean water as was enjoyed by our ancestors. The very trees, rocks, and rivers that comprise our landscape become natural landmarks that connect us to our past.

It is in the interest of the Cherokee people to map and reconstruct our ancient landscapes, even if only in virtual maps with chronological layers of geographical history. These maps include ancestral place names, towns, mounds, village sites, fishing weirs, hunting places and nineteenth century farmsteads. Layers in modern GIS or Google Earth mapping programs allow for snapshots at particular times. Native towns and villages moved periodically, making the cultural phenomena demonstrated with this technology quite remarkable.

Much has been done in the conservation movement across America since the early 1900’s to regulate hunting, establish wildlife preserves, national parks, national forests, scenic areas and state forests and parks. Little has been done to define or preserve places that are significant to native peoples unless they can be proved to be sacred, burials or archaeological sites. However, native travel ways or trails became the blueprint for modern transportation. Many of these corridors and sometimes original remnants are still found on both private and public lands. Trails serve as the connecting spokes of the native landscape.

Utilizing grant funding from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, Wild South has mapped hundreds of miles of Cherokee trails across western North Carolina and is currently working with the Forest Service to have significant trails or corridors designated and protected.

The National Park Service developed Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) designations as a means by which Native American traditional use of special places can be continued on public lands. Provisions have been made to allow federally recognized Cherokees to continue their traditional practice of gathering Sochan, a wild green, on Park land each spring. TCP’s can also be designated in National Parks and National Forests.

Cultural and historical tourism featuring Native American reconstruction of historical landscapes is a new concept by which native tribes can revisit their past using web-based applications and GPS integrated iPhone, Android and iPad technology. The technology is successfully being used today.

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