Chapter 23. New Media, Participatory Methodologies, and the Popularization of Métis History

Mike Evans and Jon Corbett

Mike Evans is Associate Professor in Community, Culture, and Global Studies at UBC Okanagan  , and Professor and Head of School of Arts and Social Sciences at Southern Cross University. He has been involved in several community-based research initiatives, and in particular has a long-term relationship with the Prince George Métis Elders Society. Together with elders and community leaders in Prince George, he put together a Métis Studies curriculum for UNBC and a number of publications including What It Is To Be a Métis, A Brief History, of the Short Life, of the Island Cache. In addition he has worked with people in Tonga on the impact of globalization and transnationalism, which has also resulted in numerous papers and presentations such as the monograph Persistence of the Gift: Tonga Tradition in Transnational Context (2001), a co-edited special issue of Pacific Studies titled Sustainability in the Small Island States of the Pacific (1999), and a co-edited volume of Human Organization titled Customs, Commons, Property, and Ecology: Case Studies from Oceania.

Jon Corbett is an Assistant Professor in the Community, Culture and Global Studies Unit at UBC Okanagan. Jon’s community-based research investigates participatory-mapping processes and tools that are used by communities to help express their relationship to and knowledge of their territories and resources. His work has been published in a number of notable journals, including Cartographica, Participatory Learning and Action, and Information Technologies and International Development, as well as a book entitled Participatory Inventory published by Oxford University Press. Jon has worked with Indigenous communities in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and several First Nations communities in British Columbia, Canada. Recently Jon has been working with the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development in Albania, Kenya, Mali, and Sudan for whom he has published a monograph and two strategy documents related to participatory mapping.

For a growing number of academics, the relevance of our research is directly linked to how we popularize it. We do not mean this in the sense that the value of our work needs to be measured against whether and how our research results appear on the pages of local or national news outlets, though this matters to an extent. A more immediate concern, especially for those of us whose practice is participatory in nature, is whether and how our research can be understood and used by the communities with whom we work.

For work with marginalized communities, participatory or participatory action research methodologies are the standard against which other research paradigms are now read and critiqued. After scholars like Paulo Freire (1970), participatory researchers embrace the notion that communities have an active role to play in all elements of the research process. Stringer (2007) identifies that a fundamental premise of participatory action research is that it assists community members in deepening the understanding of their situation and collectively highlighting the skills and tools available to them, with the intent to resolve the problems they confront. Indigenous communities, in particular, expect that researchers will shape research to meet community priorities and goals. Further, there is a growing body of literature that insists that research methodologies be framed by Indigenous values (Smith, 1999), and that research methods themselves be drawn from Indigenous practices (Armstrong, 2000, 2005). Indeed, there are a number of common elements between participatory and Indigenous research methodologies (Evans et. al., 2009a).

Associated with this participatory impulse is a growing concern about how we can shape new communication strategies that are consistent with the underlying values of this type of research. That is, how do we make the research products match the research process? Here the intent is to popularize the work in very specific ways because the target of the communication and the target of the research are the same. New media technologies have been particularly helpful in this regard. In the case study described in this chapter, digitized historical documents and a Google Map’s enabled interface have been central to both the research and its popularization

Google Maps is one of a growing body of geospatial web technologies increasingly referred to as the Geoweb. Elwood (2008) defines these new applications as “not-quite-GIS.” The Geoweb’s principle strengths are its ability to support the contribution, access, and the sharing of location-based information. This functionality fits well with the participatory intent of the project described in this chapter.

Visit The BC Metis Historical Document database