Researching Land Codes: Conference Calls and Gist Transcriptions

The Purdy Crawford Chair has been collaborating with Membertou and the Native Nations Institute (NNI) of University of Arizona for more than a year now on a research project looking at land management issues and codes in Aboriginal communities across Canada. The goal of the project is to review the various systems in use to determine a best fit for Membertou, while also investigating the ways that land codes can facilitate or impede economic development.

Throughout 2012, members of the research team reviewed literature on land codes and interviewed key personnel in communities that already have their own land codes in place. The preliminary results of that research indicated that removing a community from the land sections of the Indian Act significantly improved its ability to engage in various forms of economic development and greatly shortened land transaction times. Also interesting was the fact that everyone interviewed agreed they would never want to go back to the Indian Act for land management and that there had been surprisingly few disputes under their new codes.

In early December 2012, members of the research team descended on Membertou for a week of all things land management: community information sessions; one-on-one interviews with community members, councillors, and band employees; a pizza lunch with students; a meeting with Elders. It was a very busy week during which a great deal of very valuable information was collected.

Of course, with such a successful level of participation comes challenges. Most interviews ran between 60 and 120 minutes. The sheer volume of data to be transcribed is overwhelming, and given the timeline required by the funder of the project — the Atlantic Aboriginal Economic Development Integrated Research Program (AAEDIRP) — it simply isn't possible to have verbatim transcripts prepared in time to complete data analysis and report-writing (though they will be prepared and archived in Membertou).

So how to proceed? We all agreed to review the interviews we sat in on (that meant 5 for me) and make notes on the main themes coming out of the interviews. Then the first group of researchers attended a conference call on Wednesday afternoon to discuss these findings. Well, let me tell you, when I began reviewing my interviews on Monday (which took me all of Monday, Tuesday, and most of Wednesday), I was surprised again by just how much interesting, relevant, and valuable information was provided by each research participant. Shortly into the first interview I decided the best way I could help the research team along was to type a gist transcription as I listened. 16 single-spaced pages, five interviews, and three days later, I finished my task — just one hour before the conference call.

We talked a great deal about themes that were emerging, comments that surprised us, and how engaged community members seemed to be in the move toward developing a land code for Membertou. And I have to say, it's exciting. I really can't wait to review the research findings in April — they're being prepared by the NNI researchers. I think that this research will have significant impact for Membertou, but also other First Nation communities across Canada as they decide whether to move away from the land sections of the Indian Act and manage their lands themselves.