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An Approach to Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes


GUIDELINES FOR THE IDENTIFICATION OF ABORIGINAL CULTURAL LANDSCAPES

Boundaries

How then are boundaries to be drawn?

Family in canoe on river.
Family in birch bark canoe, Mackenzie River, Northwest Territories.
© National Archives of Canada / PA 18575, 1921

Some preliminary investigations identify several possible approaches. Canada's national parks use a zoning system to identify park areas requiring different levels of protection to guide their management and use. (Parks Canada, 1994a: II.2.2) Biosphere reserves also apply a zoning approach that provides for a core area, a buffer zone, and a transition zone. Each zone allows for different levels of protection and intervention. (UNESCO, 1996b: 4)

The emergence of bio-regional planning in protected area management, applicable to enormous areas such as the 2000-mile Yellowstone to Yukon Corridor and the 1500-mile Mesoamerican Biological Corridor through Central America (Salas, 1997), may offer some potential applicability for Aboriginal cultural landscapes.

Downer and Roberts, who are working with the Navajo Nation in the United States, consider the "broader context ... based on landscapes or ecosystems rather than artificially-defined impact zones ... is emerging from various disciplines in environmental planning. We are convinced that this is the only realistic approach to meaningful consideration of traditional cultural properties and the cultural landscapes of which they are integral parts...." (Downer and Roberts, 1993: 14)

Such planning frameworks and co-management approaches (Collings, 1997) may provide opportunities for developing mechanisms to ensure commemorative integrity of cultural landscapes such as the designated area of Nagwichoonjik [Mackenzie River].

In Australia, many Aboriginal sites are discrete areas separated by long distances but interconnected by trading routes or the paths of ancestral beings. They are most clearly understood when they are recognized as parts of a network rather than individual components. (Bridgewater and Hooy, 1995: 168) "Anangu, whose political system is egalitarian and uncentralised, visualise places in the landscape as nodes in a network of ancestral tracks. The Anangu landscape is not susceptible to division into discrete areas". (Layton and Titchen, 1995: 178)

The American Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, a multi-route and multi-site network which commemorates the forced removal, march overland and resettlement of the Cherokee [Ani'Yun' wiya] from the southeastern United States to Oklahoma in 1838-39, is a partnership of diverse groups and diverse sites with linked interpretive programs over nine states.

Historian John Johnston, exploring the adaptation of this concept of nodes to the commemoration of Aboriginal history in Canada, notes that it applies to "... places that tell an inter-connected story extending over time and place", such as trails and water routes associated with seasonal movements for food. (Johnston, A.J.B., 1993) Nodes within a network, each of identified importance, could be focal points of protection and presentation in a recognized larger cultural landscape.

Noting that there is "sometimes no obviously correct boundary", the National Park Service indicates that the selection of boundaries for traditional cultural properties should be based on the characteristics of the historic place, specifically how the place is used and why the place is important.(King and Townsend, n.d.)

This approach was taken at the Helkau Historic District in California, whose significance area was identified as "a substantial part of California's North Coast Range". A compromise decision on boundaries was developed along "topographic lines that included all the locations at which traditional practitioners carry out medicine-making and similar activities, the travel routes between such locations, and the immense viewshed surrounding this complex of locations and routes". Traditional uses, viewsheds, and changes to boundaries over time were factors considered in developing the rationale for the boundary.(Parker and King, 1990: 18-19)

In several respects the American approach can be recognized in existing national historic site designations of Aboriginal cultural landscapes. At Kejimkujik, for example, the existing national park boundaries defined a sufficiently large and appropriate area of traditional Mi'kmaq occupancy to represent the larger Mi'kmaq landscape. While in this case administrative convenience provided the basis for accepted boundaries, it is not a recommended selection approach.

At Arvia'juaq and Qikiqtaarjuk, clearly defined geographical features - an island and a point - with strong spiritual, social, economic and archaeological values related to the Caribou Inuit culture identify the boundaries. Given the importance of the adjacent waters to the cultural significance, future consideration might be given to defining site boundaries that include the key water areas.

At Grizzly Bear Mountain and Scented Grass Hills, where the designated sites are also two clearly defined land areas related to water, the site analysis and discussion of values effectively articulate the significant cultural relationships of the larger Great Bear Lake landscape. As well, the historic values of the viewsheds at this site are particularly significant in the identification of objectives for the "health" of the site. While discrete geographical features can be very useful in identifying boundaries, it is evident that the values for which the place is to be designated must predominate in establishing appropriate boundaries.

 

Last Updated: 2008-10-17 To the top
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