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The Human Geography Resilience and Change

PI: Jerome Dobson, University of Kansas

Year selected for award: 2013

The Human Geography Resilience and Change: Land Rights and Political Stability in Latin American Indigenous Societies

Principal Investigator: Jerome E. Dobson, PhD, University of Kansas

Co-Principal Investigator: Peter H. Herlihy, PhD, University of Kansas

Years of Award: 2013-2018

Managing Service Agency: Office of Naval Research

Project Description: 
The project, called Centroamérica Indígena, focused on the resilience and political stability of indigenous populations in Central America. The PIs and their doctoral students from KU worked in partnerships with colleagues and students from universities, indigenous federations, government agencies, and NGOs to map and study the lands of native communities in the region. These communities have suffered from social and political discrimination, corruption, land dispossession, extreme poverty, narco-trafficking, and violence. Resulting environmental destruction and conflict brings refugee flight from their ancestral lands. Amidst it all, some communities are more resilient, protecting their lands, natural resources, and cultural heritage. We focused on these communities and their “indigenous territorial jurisdictions” where collective land ownership and territorial autonomy have been awarded by distinct states in the region.
Objectives. The project sought a) to advance the geographic and cartographic base of information essential for governance of indigenous lands in Latin America, b) to improve the developing participatory research mapping (PRM) methodology combining it with GIS, and c) to forge new frameworks for societal interactions among indigenous communities, organizations, and individuals.

Methodology. The project worked in three indigenous territories of Central America that are also core parts of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor: 1) Sacatepéquez Department in Guatemala, 2) Muskitia in eastern Honduras, and 3) Alto Chirripó in Costa Rica.  PRM was used for fine-resolution mapping of community lands, guaranteeing approval and validation of results by resident populations, while educating them and creating goodwill and lasting relationships. Amid powerful and often corrupt interests, our KU-AGS research team worked with indigenous, mestizo, government, and NGO stakeholders to transform community-generated cognitive geographic knowledge (e.g., place-names, sketch maps, GPS locations) into standard cartographic digital and printed map formats. This work also informed our construction of a regional GIS of Central America that combines census data with official boundary data on municipalities, indigenous territorial jurisdictions, protected areas, and forests across all seven states, enabling spatial analysis of the use of lands and natural resources.
Results. We empowered indigenous communities with print and digital maps and trained “community geographers” to use them. We published comprehensive cartographic results, in printed map & digital formats (see, covering 10 indigenous territorial jurisdictions and 9,148 km² of some of the least-known and most-conflictive areas of Central America. We also completed an ArcGIS database on Central America. The research team is now publishing on the PRM-GIS methodology and on using the regional GIS database to investigate issues affecting indigenous populations in Central America.

Select publications:
"CA Indígena: Land Rights And Stability In Indigenous Societies Of Central America". 2015. Prmapping.Res.Ku.Edu.
Herlihy, Peter H., and Taylor A. Tappan. 2019. "Recognizing Indigenous Miskitu Territory In Honduras". Geographical Review 109 (1): 67-86.
Herlihy, Peter H., and Taylor A. Tappan. 2020. “Regaining Ground: Indigenous Populations and Territories in Central America. Oxford Handbook of Central American History
Herlihy, P.H., T.A. Tappan, and M.L. Fahrenbruch. Forthcoming. “Recognizing Indigenous Territorial Jurisdictions in Central America,” in Territorializing Space in Latin America: Processes and Perceptions. Springer Press.
Herlihy, P.H., T.A. Tappan, and M.L. Fahrenbruch 2019. "Recognizing Indigenous Territorial Jurisdictions in Central America”. Territorializing Space in Latin America: Processes and Perceptions
Kelly, John, Peter Herlihy, Taylor Tappan, Andrew Hilburn, and Matthew Fahrenbruch. 2017. "From Cognitive Maps To Transparent Static Web Maps: Tools For Indigenous Territorial Control In La Muskitia, Honduras". Cartographica: The International Journal For Geographic Information And Geovisualization 52 (1): 1-19.
Tappan, Taylor A., and Peter H. Herlihy. 2018. "Mapping Miskitu Subsistence Land Use Change In Concejo Territorial Katainasta, Honduras". Revista Geográfica De América Central 3 (61E): 609-622.