Musqueam Place Names Map

Preserving language and heritage


The Musqueam Map is the product of our collaborative effort with the GIS coordinator of the Musqueam Band. It uses a wealth of data collected over the years by this Canadian First Nation and is very focused on enabling them to present and express themselves in their unique way. Guided by their vision of “one heart, one mind”, the map pulls together the geography, history, culture, language, and challenges of this indigenous people group, presenting it as a strong, unified whole. Preserving a tribal culture and language in which place names have significance and traditional hunter/gathering is still a way of life is an increasing challenge, especially in the urban setting that has been carved out of the heart of Musqueam territory. This map will be instrumental in documenting and preserving their history and telling their story in their own words, complementing and augmenting the vital job that community historians and educators do as they teach and pass on Musqueam history to their people.

Using data from the Musqueam band’s well-stocked archives, the project provides a living record for posterity. The map features important geographic areas (water and land) with traditional Musqueam place names (accompanied by authentic pronunciations) as well as events (story lines), all linked to a bank of audio, video, and historic images that document the changing geography of their territory.

The map was designed around the rich data source available and makes use of text, images, video and audio, which, when geographically linked to points on the map create an incredibly powerful, interactive tool for telling the Musqueam story. Because the land, time, and change are such vitally important elements in their story, providing geographic, temporal, and thematic linkages was crucial. This was achieved by keeping the UI clean and simple while presenting connected elements (text, narrative, images, audio) together on the same screen with the basemap. Also, in keeping with the aim of empowering the people of this Canadian First Nation, a portal was created to facilitate in-house management of the map so that they can update the data and add new points at any time. The map supports both audio and video so users can enjoy a two-fold sensory experience, seeing the images and hearing the language as it is spoken.

Working in the First Nations character set was challenging yet it was indicative of the uniqueness of this people group and how important this map would be to helping to transmit their history and culture in a rapidly changing world. The map is built on the open-source Leaflet platform with a MySQL database and a basemap designed in TileMill, and dynamically rendered in Mapnik, allowing the Musqueam band to make updates with new geodata at any time. It is optimized for tablets, making it highly portable, which means it can be brought into and shown around the community.

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