The Seminoles have a known lineage dating back hundreds of years in Florida. To help trace this history and create a streamlined data archive, the Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office has created a geo-mapping program.
The mapping software uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to place all findings and historical pieces on a single map. Departments throughout the Tribe can request access to this map on an online portal — which requires a password to access — to use it for various projects and research. Those who have access can add and/or edit information based on their findings.
Lacee Cofer, geospatial analyst at THPO, introduced a basic version of the software when she was an intern about three years ago. Originally intended to help the Tribe’s compliance sector identify the impact of outside projects on lands of Tribal interest, the program has transcended into a diversified initiative.
“It’s gone from a simple tool for compliance to use to find things that are significant to it being a repository for a lot of different research projects that everyone has access to,” Cofer said.
Upon entering the portal, individuals see a map alongside a checklist of categories, which includes historical trails, county borders, military forts, and more. The map can focus on Florida or other regions of the U.S. By clicking on one or more of the categories, people can see the present-day areas where those subjects are located through a process called geo-referencing, which lays PDFs and images of historical data on present-day maps. The historical data is gathered from research found and conducted by Tribal departments.
With this process, Cofer explained that people can have a better understanding of historical locations and relate them to present-day activities or other historical events. Once logged into the portal, departments can add and/or edit locations so that others have access to new information in real-time.
“When you see a drawing, you don’t necessarily know where it goes in real time, so we take this image and put it on a map exactly where it goes,” Cofer said. “Looking at a historical map, you really never know what can be beneficial [in the future], so we have military maps, maps hand-drawn by Tribal members, Army Corps of Engineer maps, really everything. You never know what map will have a little detail that’s beneficial to you and might tell a bigger story.”
There are currently about 400 maps available within the portal, but Cofer said there are many more to come.
Juan Cancel, THPO’s chief data analyst, explained that THPO has even more plans for GIS within the Tribe. They are in the process of creating mobile applications for field use and implementing a major initiative that combines GIS, story mapping and the Ahfachkee School.
Story mapping, an online platform that uses videos, images, sounds and text to present a story, is a way to, according to Cancel, create community-based GIS. Eventually, THPO wants to utilize story mapping in showcasing Seminole history, but they want to kick-off the initiative with a history class at Ahfachkee in January. Though not yet finalized, the history project would allow students to create their own story maps based on data they collect about any topic related to Seminole culture and/or history. Topics could range from The Seminole Wars to environmental impacts on Tribal lands.
“At the end of it you’ll see a whole story from their point of view,” Cancel said. “This is their chance to tell their story to the world. This will take the whole mapping idea to a different level.”
The project is expected to last the entire semester and Cancel hopes to display the projects as part of an interactive exhibit in the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Each story map will be on display on an iPad, where visitors can learn about the Seminoles through countless pieces of visual data. Cancel expects the exhibit to be available next fall.
While future projects are still in planning phases, Cofer assured that THPO is working to become known as the most technologically advanced THPO in the U.S.
“In cultural preservation, being able to keep up with the times and utilize the best tools available at the time advances the Tribe. Out of all the tribes, we want to be the one that they [other tribes] look to and say ‘They know what they’re doing,’” she explained. “Cultural preservation is unbelievably important. It’s maintaining Tribal culture for generations and making sure there’s a record of all this information. When you’re doing something that important for a group of people, you want to use the best tools available.”