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GIS In Action: Answering Your Common Questions



Welcome to the third post in our blog series that explores the power of mapping and GIS in supporting Indigenous Nations to advance their rights and interests. 


When someone is talking about GIS, does it sometimes feel like you don't completely understand what is going on? If so, you aren't alone! In producing this blog series, we've relied on our own resident GIS experts, Lynn Wardle and Marnie Benson, to answer our questions. In this story, we take a step back from highlighting all the cool things that mapping and GIS can do to better explain exactly what GIS is!


Here are the answers to some FAQs about GIS and mapping. If you don't see your questions answered here, please reach out! Our GIS experts are always happy to talk through any scenario you might have and suggest some possible solutions. They have more answers than would fit in many, many blogs, so do please get in touch!


What Does GIS Stand For?

G: Geographic

  I: Information

 S: System


What is GIS?

GIS is a computer system made for capturing and displaying positions on the earth’s surface. The positions can be shown in many different ways on maps.


What Can it Do?

The main job of GIS is to help in analyzing groups of data to find correlations or patterns. For example, GIS could be used to take a proactive approach with land use management. It could also be used to safeguard cultural and historical locations by visually documenting Traditional Knowledge on a map. This information can then be used for discussions with proponents regarding potential territory claims, treaty negotiations, land use, planning decisions - the list is endless.


GIS can give information about a location and help provide knowledge on many different topics in a location. Users can specify a place via latitude and longitude, postal code, or an address. Then GIS can provide information in that area about who lives there, including demographics. It can also tell you about soil types, vegetation, water sources, manmade structures such as buildings and roads, and many, many other things.


What Are the Main GIS Software Options?

There are many, many options for desktop, online and mobile mapping. Some are a subscription based (Esri ArcGIS, AutoCAD, MapInfo), while others are free / open-source (QGIS, GRASS GIS, Google Earth). They all come with a variety of capabilities for editing, analysis, innovation, and with varying degrees of support. There is a learning curve to every new piece of software, and mapping software is no different. The level of complexity to that learning curve is dependent on what you’re asking of the program and how much support you have in training.


Not sure which choice will meet the needs of your Nation or department?
See how the options compare


What is Esri?

Esri stands for Environmental Systems Research Institute.


Full disclosure: Our GIS team at SVS has settled on Esri products as our preferred solutions for all things GIS and mapping - both in house and for our clients. We are not being paid by ESRI to say that - we just really appreciate how they operate, the tools they provide, and the lengths they go to protect the confidentiality of data.


Esri is an international supplier of geographic information system (GIS) software, web GIS, and geodatabase management applications. The company is headquartered in Redlands, California.


The company was founded as the Environmental Systems Research Institute in 1969 as a land-use consulting firm. Esri products (particularly ArcGIS Desktop) have 40.7% of the global market share. In 2014, Esri had approximately a 43% share of the GIS software market worldwide, more than any other vendor.


Esri is trusted by more than 300,000 organizations all over the world to support their business. Over the past 45 years, Esri has focused on helping these enterprises to successfully manage their geospatial work. Esri's products and services represent this vast experience and dedication to GIS. ArcGIS not only replicates but also extends the capabilities you have now. By investing in the technology, communities can take control of their own data management.


What is ArcGIS Online?

ArcGIS Online is a cloud-based mapping and analysis solution. You can use it to make maps, analyze data, explore and visualize 2D and 3D data, and to share and collaborate. It also allows you to work collaboratively with your colleagues to create and access workflow-specific apps, maps, and data from around the globe and tools for being mobile in the field. Your data and maps are stored in a secure and private infrastructure and can be configured to meet your mapping and IT requirements. Share your maps with anyone, anywhere, or keep them private.


Do I Need a New Computer or Software?

You may need a new computer, but not necessarily. ArcGIS Online is a software-as-a-service (SaaS), so it can be used anytime, anywhere. Access to data can be controlled so that anyone you have provided permission to can interact with the information at the same time. Esri takes care of software updates and maintenance, so you are free to focus on your work.


Do I Need Internet Access?

Unfortunately, yes. To use ArcGIS Online or to be able to access any of Esri’s basemaps or demographic data you do need reliable internet connectivity. Basemaps are accessed as services from the Esri host servers, and to access these host servers and load the basemap images, users must be connected to the internet. In field applications such as ArcGIS Field Maps or ArcGIS Survey123, basemaps can be downloaded as tile packages for offline use.


This reliability on internet access would be the same as mapping in Google Earth, where while both have options to do some work offline, there is still a dependency on internet access.


If you do not have reliable internet access, ArcGIS may not be the best option for you. Other options like QGIS are more desktop-based and are less reliant on the internet but will still require you to connect when the application is opened to check for updates. In these cases, it is likely that data will need to be stored in something from the Microsoft Suite.


Another option is to look for a third party outside of the community to act as a trusted steward of your data. They can assist in collecting your data and will hold it. Through a Data Licensing Agreement, you can ensure that possession of that information remains with the community.


But I’m Already Using Google Earth?

That’s not a problem, you won’t lose your existing data as it can easily be converted into an Esri format. If you are already using the Google Map Platform, Esri will provide its ArcGIS technology at no cost to the full Google partner ecosystem that currently uses Google Earth Enterprise or Google Maps Engine. This will include software, training, and technical assistance in migrating apps to the Esri environment. Esri is also inviting Google partners to join the ESRI Partner Program.


How Secure is ArcGIS Online?

ArcGIS Online secures all access to your information. Information is accessible to only those users with whom it has been shared. A secure login process that always takes place over HTTPS keeps your information safe. Subsequent access to information requires authentication tokens acquired at sign in. Organizations only allow access through HTTPS, which ensures that all data (for example, features and tiles) as well as authentication tokens are encrypted during transport over the Internet. Trust Center is an informative website with in-depth security information for ArcGIS Online and all Esri products.


What are the Components of OCAP®?

Ownership: Ownership refers to the relationship of First Nations to their cultural knowledge, data, and information. This principle states that a community or group owns information collectively in the same way that an individual owns his or her personal information.


Control: The principle of control affirms that First Nations, their communities and representative bodies are within their rights in seeking to control over all aspects of research and information management processes that impact them. First Nations control of research can include all stages of a particular research project-from start to finish. The principle extends to the control of resources and review processes, the planning process, management of the information and so on.


Access: First Nations must have access to information and data about themselves and their communities, regardless of where it is currently held. The principle also refers to the right of First Nations communities and organizations to manage and make decisions regarding access to their collective information. This may be achieved, in practice, through standardized, formal protocols.


Possession: While ownership identifies the relationship between a people and their information in principle, possession or stewardship is more concrete. It refers to the physical control of data. Possession is a mechanism by which ownership can be asserted and protected.


Blog Series: GIS and Mapping

Harness the power of the map for better, more informed decisions

Welcome to our blog series that explores the power of mapping and GIS in supporting Indigenous Nations to advance their rights and interests. GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. Many of us know the term, but if you are fuzzy on what it actually means, you're not alone!  Throughout this blog series and in our upcoming eBook we will explore what it is, how it works, and some of the amazing things you can do with it.


Other posts in this series:


GIS and Mapping Services at SVS

Our goal is to make it easy for your Lands Department to have control over your maps of your territory. Our services are scalable to your needs. We can come along side your team and support as you build in-house capacity, chose to outsource your mapping needs, or something in between. We leverage Esri ArcGIS tools to allow for accurate, real-time data collection, analysis, and more:

• Field data collection made easy
• ArcGIS StoryMaps
• Real-time data visualization
• Training programs
• And of course, any map you could ever need!


Read Our Full 2021 Services Brochure Here To Find Out What Other Great Services We Offer


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About Us: Shared Value Solutions

We are an Canadian B Corp, and we assist Indigenous communities with support throughout regulatory processes surrounding major development projects like mines, hydroelectric facilities, transmission lines, highway expansions, oil and gas pipelines, natural resource transport applications and nuclear power. 


We have deep context and experience behind the recommendations we provide, having worked for our clients on almost every major project in Canada over the last 10 years. For us, it’s all about building long-term relationships with our clients. We want to get to know you and what you want to do so we can help you move your plans forward. 

  • Impact Benefit Agreement Negotiation Support 
  • Technical Reviews and Regulatory Process Support 
  • Community and Economic Development Planning 
  • Indigenous Knowledge and Land Use Studies 
  • Environmental Monitoring 
  • Guardians Program Development 
  • Climate Change Readiness 
  • GIS and Mapping
  • And so much more:


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