Academic journal article Human Organization

Mapping Dreams in Nicaragua's Bosawas Reserve

Academic journal article Human Organization

Mapping Dreams in Nicaragua's Bosawas Reserve

Article excerpt

The advent of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has occasioned a plethora of mapping processes throughout the world concerned with indigenous rights. Yet many of these projects and processes seem to end with the maps, occasionally to the detriment of the people subject to the mapping. This paper argues that mapping is a necessary but insufficient goal if the aim is to further indigenous land and resource rights, especially in a context in which there are many more powerful forces, hostile to the empowerment process. The paper uses the case of the Bosawas International Biosphere Reserve to illustrate parallel processes of mapping (with appropriate documentation), protection, political harmonization, institutional strengthening, and appropriate scientific input that have been employed there. All of these processes together have begun to make a difference, and the colonist agricultural frontier that threatens indigenous lands within the reserve has been notably slowed, although secure land and resource rights have continued to evade Nicaragua's indigenous people.

Key words: mapping, Bosawas, Mayangna, Miskilu, Nicaragua

The title of this paper is intended in two senses. First, it is a respectful bow in the direction of Hugh Brody who, in 1981, wrote the inspiring ethnographic classic, Maps and Dreams, about his work on indigenous land use maps in western Canada. Brody was one of the 20th century pioneers who worked directly with indigenous groups to document their land uses in an effort to assist them in the defense of their homelands. However, to Brody and the Athabaskans with whom he worked, maps were not just a graphic way to represent what was then taken to be the ordinary palpable realities of land use. Maps could also be pure ideological products, as in the case of hunters dreaming of taking game in specific locations; once the animal is taken in dream, the hunter need only find the trail from his dream map and collect the physical body of the animal. Maps, for these Athabaskans, were sometimes dreamed even to find heaven, the trails to which lay at particular intersections in dream maps (Brody 1988:44-48). Dream trails to heaven were sometimes drawn up on paper and buried with the hunter.

In the sense of maps as guides to the possible, the maps about which I write in this paper speak to the aspirations of the Mayangna and Miskitu indigenous communities in the Bosawas International Biosphere Reserve.1 Their maps are a way of talking about their identity as indigenous communities and their dreams for land rights in one of the most politically vexed countries in the world.

The other sense of my title is more blunt: if we think maps of constituted indigenous land use, territories, or homelands can stand by themselves as empowering productions in a world where many more powerful forces are arrayed to gobble up indigenously occupied natural resources, we are dreaming. As dreams, maps are ideological constructs in the Marxist and postmodern sense that, to have a lasting effect on the realities they presume to influence or create, must be accompanied by concrete social, legal, and economic processes, long-term planning, and support. Otherwise, we are simply having "mapping dreams" that-in the real world of indigenous geopolitical negotiations with the states in which they unhappily find themselves-can quickly become "mapping nightmares." By this, I mean to suggest that mapping of indigenous land-claim boundaries, or indigenous land uses, may only rarely stand alone as an appropriate objective for those who would use mapping to assist indigenous communities in their negotiations with the state. A number of other longer-term supports are necessary, and even when those are present, the vindication of indigenous land claims can be predicted to be a long and complex process. The case taken up in this paper illustrates the problem through an examination of the indigenous territories in the Bosawas International Biosphere Reserve of Nicaragua. …

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