Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Applications of a GIS Program to Tribal Research: Its Benefits, Challenges and Extensions to the Community

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Applications of a GIS Program to Tribal Research: Its Benefits, Challenges and Extensions to the Community

Article excerpt


This paper provides detailed ideas on how to set up a GIS program and how to develop it for maximum benefits in the areas of education, research and community outreach. We draw our experience from setting up the GIS program at Oglala Lakota College (OLC), Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. GIS can be useful in many fields and is inexpensive to set up. Native Americans applied science in the past and now embrace GIS technology for everyday decision making. This article presents the wide range of GIS applications using OLC's GIS program as an example. We present our educational activities, research and community outreach. An example is the "Lakota Land" project in which we mapped historical sites and businesses and then published an interactive map through the internet. This report is presented to give detailed advice on how to set up a successful GIS program and to promote geospatial technology to other tribal or non-tribal colleges and universities.


The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located in southwestern South Dakota. The history of the Pine Ridge reservation is rich with outstanding Native Americans, such as Crazy Horse, American Horse, Red Cloud, and many more having lived within the area (Freedman 1987, Brown 1993). Important Native American events include the historic massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890 and the recent history of the American Indian Movement (AIM) standoff in 1973. Protests still happen, for example, about the stronghold area northeast of the reservation, where negotiations are under way to return parts of the Badlands National Park to tribal management. Living conditions can be challenging; former President Clinton acknowledged an unemployment rate of nearly 75% (Clinton, 1999) which is likely to be even higher at the present time.

Oglala Lakota College (OLC) was chartered in 1971 by the Oglala Sioux Tribe to coordinate higher education on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This college provides educated human resources for the tribe and other reservation entities. The GIS/Remote Sensing program was built up by Dr. Sylvio Mannel at the Piya Wiconi Oglala Lakota College Center in 2003. Funding for the program was made possible through grants written and implemented by Mike Fredenberg, Stacy Phelps, Dr. Albrecht Schwalm and Dr. Sylvio Mannel. NSF Model Institutions for Excellence (MIE) funded the construction of the building and NSF TCUP funded the equipping of the GIS/Remote Sensing lab.

As the name suggests, the GIS/Remote Sensing Lab also deals with Remote Sensing which broadly means classification of satellite data. However, this paper is presented to concentrate on GIS lab set-up, as well as the role of research, community and K-12 outreach. The GIS program at OLC has supported ranchers, firefighters, tribal offices, forest service, human services, health service, water resources, and assisted in areas of Lakota studies, tourism, and environmental science. The goal of the authors is to promote GIS/GPS technology in higher education by describing opportunities and details of what is and is not essential in implementing a GIS program.


Ancient creation and origin stories as well as star maps strongly indicate the importance American Indians have long placed on scientific observation and study of the laws of the universe. Indian farming techniques of hybridization and their understanding of practical fenetics also validate their preoccupation with science in ay-to-day life. Lakota creation stories, star knowledge and modern science can go hand in hand; for example, by looking at a satellite image of the Black Hills one sees the shape of the human heart. The ancient Lakota name of the Black Hills is in fact "The Heart of Everything That Is."

Native American geospatial issues are of national importance. In an executive memorandum on tribal Sovereignty and Consultation, in 2004, President Bush reiterated the commitment of the United States to Native American issues (Bush, 2004). …

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