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Macalester College GIS Project Enlightens Community

In a unique collaboration between Macalester College, Indian Land Tenure Foundation and the Community Affairs Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, 21 geography students had the opportunity to research, map and analyze land tenure patterns on eight Minnesota Indian reservations. 

In their research, the students used mapping technology to explore topics such as income disparity and land ownership, and were surprised to learn that several of Minnesota’s reservations, including White Earth, Leech Lake and Fond du Lac, have been hard hit by “checkerboarding” and “fractionation”—land tenure problems that contribute to economic, social and cultural hardship on many reservations.

“Land tenure issues are so complex,” says student researcher, Ross Donihue. “To actually see the devastating effects of these issues rise up out of the maps was really eye opening.”

In the case of the Fond du Lac Reservation, students tracked historical ownership patterns dating from the pre-Allotment period (before 1887) though the early 20th century to the present. Mapping these patterns provided eye-opening insight into the way lands on Fond du Lac have been systematically removed from Indian ownership and control since the 19th century. Today, only 30 percent of the reservation is in Indian ownership. 

“The beauty of the student’s work is its simplicity,” suggested Terry Janis, program officer for ILTF. “The students’ maps easily show the loss of Indian lands in Minnesota and the crushing impact of those losses on Indian people.”

In December 2010, the students shared their research in a final presention to local funders and ILTF, Macalester College and Federal Reserve Bank staff. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis hosted the presentation at their facility.

"I hope that the community, Native and non-Native, will benefit not just from the data files and physical products produced by the students, but also from increased awareness of how GIS and these techniques can be used," says geography professor and project coordinator, Laura Smith.

The maps are also part of a touchscreen display at All My Relations Gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The gallery shares space with the Native American Community Development Institute (an ILTF project partner) and is free and open to the public.

View photos from the event on our Facebook page.

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