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An Approach to Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes


Why can the concept of 'landscape' be a particularly useful one for the national recognition of Aboriginal history?

Landscape can provide a conceptual bridge between Aboriginal world views and heritage conservation theory. The concept of cultural landscapes is a relatively new one in the heritage conservation movement. Although geographers have studied cultural landscapes for about a century, it is only in the past ten years that they have actively emerged in the field of heritage conservation. The approach offers a significant way of looking at place that focusses not on monuments but on the relationship between human activity and the natural environment.

Coastal shoreline with mist over mountains.
Darwin Sound, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, British Columbia.
© Parks Canada / D. Andrews /, 1996.

Landscapes have always been seen in many different ways by different viewers. In a seminal article, geographer D.W. Meinig identified ten perspectives on the same landscape, ranging from landscape as wealth to landscape as system. Each accentuated a different aspect of value in the landscape. As he pointed out, "any landscape is composed not only of what lies before our eyes but what lies within our heads".(Meinig, 1976)

In Australia, landscape architect Ken Taylor has observed that the preconceptions of landscape on the part of colonials and Aborigines there were different, but both reflected a concept of place, inherent experiential qualities, constructs informed by memory and myths, and links of the past with the present and future. (Taylor, 1997)

Anthropologists and Aboriginal people working on traditional use studies and undertaking to re-establish cultural landscapes on the west coast of Canada have applied this dilemma to ways of seeing west coast landscapes: in contrast to the visitor and the scientist, who perceive wilderness in Gwaii Haanas, the Haida people see their homeland, Haida Gwaii, rich with the historical and spiritual evidences of their centuries-long occupation.


Last Updated: 2008-10-17 To the top
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