Data from Indian Affairs GIS helps 200 tribes manage their land

A tribe can get
information only about the land it owns.

American Indian tribes now have access to a geographic information system for land
planning, thanks to a free service from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The bureau’s Geographic Data Service Center in Denver maintains a database of aerial
photographs, maps and other data sets that tribes nationwide can access with minimum
technology, bureau officials said.

More than 200 tribes use the database when managing various natural resources such as
timber, minerals and animal and plant species.

The database holds information on prairie dog counts, public land surveys, landscape
grids, wildfire patterns, forestry inventories and water tables—in short, just about
every piece of data on a reservation’s natural possessions.

“We are a technology transfer office for the BIA and tribes directly,” said
Gen Seagle, acting chief of the data center. “If we have the data sets here, and they
have a remote access and a password, they can use us.”

Because many reservations run businesses such as mines, timber operations and casinos,
they tend to hold information on those operations close to the vest. The password prevents
other tribes and large private firms, for instance, from finding out a tribe’s
business, Seagle said.

Each tribe’s access privileges limit its ability to get information. Each tribe
can access data only about the land it owns, and, in some cases, land within a couple of
miles of the reservation. Beyond that, the tribes have to go to other sources that may
charge them for the service, Seagle said.

“The most important thing we do is make it available to the BIA agencies and
tribes for no cost,” he said. And the center even pays for the call for tribes in
remote areas that access the database through regular phone lines.

The Denver service center has two Sun Microsystems 690 Series Sparcservers, said Bill
Verwys, manager of computer services at the center. One is used internally for
development, the other for storing the land data.

The servers each have four 167-MHz CPUs and 500M of RAM, Verwys said. One server has
20G disk space; the other has 40G. They both run SunSoft Solaris 2.1. The servers host two
GIS applications: ArcInfo 7.21 and ArcView 3.0B from Environmental Systems Research
Institute Inc. of Redlands, Calif.

Access from remote sites can be dicey. Areas in the Southwest, for instance, are
serviced by “ma and pa” telephone connections, Seagle said. The center
recommends tribes use Pentium PCs and high-speed modems, but that is not often the case.

“Often they are running on a 386 world, and it can be real slow and
frustrating,” he said. That means that some tribes can get numerical data sets but
may have difficulty viewing graphical data.

The only requirement on the user’s end is one of two communications setups: any
software with EM4105 emulation or the ReachOut PC-to-PC communications package from Stac
Communications Inc. of San Diego. The EM4105 standard is being phased out, Verwys said,
because ArcInfo will no longer support it.

Reservation PCs then connect to a PC in the data center office, which links to the

The data center will soon make the GIS data accessible via the Internet, Verwys said.
Many reservations have T1 lines and Internet service. The center just installed a
firewall, PIX from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., to protect tribal proprietary
information, Verwys said.

The data center also provides training, consultation services and equipment to help
tribes access the data, BIA officials said. 

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