More than 3,000 Indigenous communities in Canada have been added to Google Maps and Google Earth — and it’s about time, Indigenous people say.

“It’s important to me because there are so many Indigenous groups across the country and to not see them as an important fabric of a base map, just to not be recognized, it’s insulting,” said Steve DeRoy, a member of the Ebb and Flow First Nation in Manitoba, and one of the researchers/cartographers working on this project.

“We are in our 150th year [of] Canada being a country; it’s just one step closer to reconciliation.”

For the last seven years, DeRoy and other experts have worked with Natural Resources Canada and Indigenous communities to compile coordinates and mapping information.

The updated sites include First Nations reserve lands, but also treaty settlement lands belonging to Indigenous communities.

One of these is the Long Plain First Nations urban reserve in Winnipeg’s west end, acquired in 2006, fulfilling in part Canada’s outstanding treaty land entitlement. Called the Madison Reserve, it was recognized as a reserve in 2013 and features a Petro-Canada gas station and office complex.

‘A big moment’

“What you have is a number of Indigenous communities — some of them have multiple reserve parcels, some of them have single reserves and so 3,000 is the total number of reserve lands and settlement lands that we have on the map,” DeRoy said.

Alexandra Hunnings

More than 3,000 Indigenous lands have been added to Google Maps and Google Earth, says Google Canada’s Alexandra Hunnings. (CBC News)

​”This is a big moment, this is an opportunity. We actually kicked this project off seven years ago, so it’s been a relatively long process and one that’s definitely worth doing thoroughly and doing collaboratively,” Google Canada’s Alexandra Hunnings said.

“We’ve had workshops across the country and the idea is to empower Indigenous communities with the ability to build their own maps to reflect their own communities on our platforms. We’re fortunate to have a platform that many people around the world use and we want Canada and what makes us Canadian reflected on those platforms.”

‘It’s unfortunate that Indigenous people have been excluded from the maps and it’s taken a long time just to have that recognition’– Steve DeRoy, cartographer

Canada has more than 1.4 million people who self-identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit. There are 600 bands living on 3,100 reserves and urban centres across the country.

DeRoy acknowledged that mapping can be political, especially decisions about what is included and what is not.

“It’s unfortunate that Indigenous people have been excluded from the maps and it’s taken a long time just to have that recognition — just to be showing on the maps,” he said.

“It’s one step closer to reconciliation and having Google be able to put this information into the world. It’s fantastic. It’s a great feeling.”

Google Maps urban reserve

This is what an urban reserve in Winnipeg looks like on Google Maps, under a new feature showing Indigenous lands. (CBC News)

If Indigenous communities want to add or update information about their lands such as roads, addresses or businesses, their government can contribute data on the Base Map Partner Program.

Individual community members can also use the Send Feedback tool to add and edit essential information on Google Maps.