US: Dialogue about environmental change between two crucial groups — scientists from the developed world and experts from indigenous populations — remains largely ineffective due to historical and cultural factors. Cartography can be used to bridge this communication gap between the two groups, observed Margaret Pearce, assistant professor of geography at the University of Kansas, US.
“There’s a need for a synthesising dialogue between local and outside experts,” she said. “That’s been hard in words — whether the words are spoken or written — for a variety of historical reasons. I see cartography as a very powerful tool because it can visually represent spaces of difference and spaces of agreement. You can point and say, ‘Here are the places where we agree and see things similarly, and here are the places where we diverge.’”
Through better cross-cultural communication, Pearce aims to help solve the problem of livelihood loss in the region. Further, she hopes to create a model that will encourage both indigenous and non-indigenous people around the world to share strategies for effective adaptation in the face of severe environmental change.
“My expertise is to listen to what people are telling me about geography in a certain place and represent those geographies graphically in the map,” Pearce said. “What’s wonderful about cartographic language is that it can show specific information like, ‘This is how far we used to have to walk to water, and this is how far we walk now.’ But maps can also show differences in how we think in general, like the way we think about distance. A Western scientist might use kilometers to map how far away something is, whereas local people might map the same distance in terms of the time on a watch, because for them the distance is inextricable from time. Those differences can be revealed clearly on the map.”