How drone technologies can support Indigenous land stewardship

The following article originally appeared on the First Nation Technology Council’s website here.

Drone technologies have the potential to significantly support Indigenous land stewardship. These flying robots are being used around the world to collect high-resolution remote sensing data of lands and waters. The First Nations Technology Council is excited to announce the launch of our Drone Stewardship Program! This is the first program to offer training in the theory, set up and application of drones with a focus on how drones can be used in Indigenous communities. Applications close November 22!

The course will be co-taught by Pano Skrivanos. Pano’s great-grandmother is from Tia’amin Nation, and he has been working with Indigenous communities for many years as the Senior Business Manager of the GIS and Information Management Program at Inlailawatash Limited. He provides expertise to communities in the areas of land use planning, forestry, surveying, marine conservation, archaeology, wildlife habitat analysis, and forest carbon.

Pano recently spoke to the Technology Council about how drones can support Indigenous land stewardship and self-determination, as well as why he is excited to teach the Drone Stewardship Program.

FNTC: What are some innovative ways that drones are being put to use in Indigenous communities today?

PS: There’s tons of ways. Drones can be used to survey intertidal areas and help pick out fish traps, shellfish gardens, clam gardens and canoe pullouts. You can see these features a lot easier from the air. You can also use drones to create really detailed typography maps of intertidal zones. You can see the shape of the land really clearly that you can’t otherwise see from the land. Drone LIDAR can be used to strip away vegetation, so you can look through trees and shrubs and find features and cultural depressions like pit houses.

A lot of First Nations territories are huge. So with the drone you can get out to these areas that are not really accessible. You can put a drone up in the air and you can survey really large areas. Then you can take photos and video and bring them back and share it with the rest of the community. There’s a lot of Indigenous businesses out there that do aerial photography and aerial video for promotion.

FNTC: What do you enjoy most about getting to work with First Nations communities and supporting them with GIS mapping and drone services?

PS: I get to work on all kinds of really cool projects. I get to help organize traditional use and occupancy data and put it into useable formats. I get to travel around and visit a lot of these communities. For instance I was up in Hartley Bay in July, I’m heading to Williams Lake next week. I was up in Port Hardy just a few weeks. I’d never get to do this kind of stuff if it wasn’t for my job.

FNTC: What are some of the career opportunities for someone with the skills to operate a drone?

PS: There’s tons of opportunities. It’s a real growing industry. The ways drones can be used are just getting bigger and bigger. There’s a lot of potential careers where drones can be used in, like industry, tourism, natural resources. Having the skills to operate a drone is a really good thing to have in your tool box. It’s also complimentary. So if students are already interested in or working in natural resource fields like mapping or archaeology, having the ability to fly drones is only going to help students.

FNTC: What are you most looking forward to about teaching the Drone Stewardship Program?

PS: I’m most looking forward to meeting and working with students. I don’t know who they’re going to be yet, but the plan is to have 12 students from six different communities. So I think that’s going to be really cool. I’m sure they’re going to have diverse backgrounds and different levels of experience.  So that’s going to be really exciting for me. This is my first time teaching this course so I’m going to be open to new experiences. We’re all going to be doing this together. There’s a lot they’re going to be able to teach me as well about how they see drones being useful for them. I have my ideas about that, but I’m sure there’s other applications that I haven’t even considered.

Doing the actual flight training is going to be a lot of fun. We have some exciting plans in place for teaching students how to fly their drones safely.

FNTC: What’s your personal message to communities and students thinking of applying to this program?

PS: It’s going to be really fun! It’s going to be really interesting. I mean drones are interesting. These are machines that fly around and can do really cool stuff. It’s going to be really good opportunity. It’s going to open up doors for people to do all kinds of neat stuff in their communities.

Click here for more information on the Drone Stewardship Program.

By Trevor Jang