Brian Thom

Brian Thom
Associate Professor

PhD McGill

Office: Cornett B244

Dr. Thom’s research focus is on the political, social and cultural processes that surround Indigenous people's efforts to resolve Aboriginal title and rights claims and establish self-government. The research is community-driven and politically engaged in matters of contemporary social significance.  His written work explores the interplay of culture, power and colonial discourses in land claims negotiations, and examines the political and ontological challenges for Indigenous people engaged with institutions of the state.

For more information, see my Expertise Database profile and visit UVic's Ethnographic Mapping Lab.


  • Ethnographic mapping - IN THE NEWS...
  • Place, place names, political ontology
  • Aboriginal rights, title and governance
  • Modern-day treaty negotiations
  • Applying anthropology to public policy
  • Indigenous peoples, Coast Salish

Current projects

Innovations in Ethnographic Mapping and Indigenous Cartographies

This project (funded by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, and grant from Google) -- examines ways in which ethnographic mapping has become socially and politically powerful, used by Indigenous peoples to support their title, rights and governance, and to promote Indigenous place-based knowledge within and between in communities.  To do this, the I-EMIC project embarks on a significant re-evaluation of how anthropologists collaborate with indigenous communities to co-create and mobilize knowledge using leading edge mapping technologies. The project draws on the widely available, affordable, and easy-to-use mapping technologies of Google Earth (and related software) to produce visualizations – embedded with sound, video, photos, and text on a detailed 3D globe – that better reflect indigenous territoriality, land tenure, and senses of and attachments to place. These methodologies and representations are being used for inter-generational knowledge transfer, public education, indigenous rights assertions, and in land and resource consultations.  Dr. Thom and his graduate students are undertaking four pilot projects in collaboration with Indigenous communities in British Columbia, and in the Russian Far East (Kamchatka), are developing extensive training resources for communities to use implement these methodologies and tools, and are critically examining the legacies of ethnographic mapping.

Co-management, Conservation and National Parks

Dr. Thom has long been involved in working with Indigenous communities working to implement cooperative management and shared decision-making frameworks for conservation, resource development and land planning.  He is currently co-investigator on the FRSC-funded Centre for Indigenous Conservation and Development Alternatives (CICADA, Colin Scott, McGill, PI), coordinating the thematic research axis on Indigenous Community Mapping.  He is also collaborator on a SSHRC-funded study A Global Political Ecology of Conservation Practice in Canada's National Parks (Robin Roth, U Guelph, PI) evaluating factors of success in collaborative management arrangements such as those between Parks Canada and First Nations in the Gulf Islands National Park reserve, and in tribally declared parks.

Modern Day Treaties and Indigenous Rights

Dr. Thom has had extensive experience with the BC Treaty Process, and is currently involved in research on issues related to shared territory and overlapping claims, and the development of regional approaches to aboriginal self-government.  I am collaborating with colleagues from the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group and the University of Arizona Indigenous People Law and Policy Program on reframing Indigenous land claims as issues of human rights, including work on the historic case Hul’qumi’num v. Canada case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

First Nations Governance and Food Security

Dr Thom is leading research the qualitative research program of the CIHR-funded project Pulling Together For Health: Food Security and First Nations (Malek Batel, UdM, Principle Investigator).  This multi-year project examines the strategies and outcomes of First Nations communities’ work to incorporate food security into Indigenous rights and governance recognition agreements.  This work draws on the community-generated hypothesis that the implementation of Aboriginal and treaty rights, and establishment of successful self-governance frameworks are key to re-establishing food security, and seeks to highlight best practices in this critical but largely unstudied social determinate of community health and well-being.

Selected publications

Articles and chapters

  • “Brian Thom on Google Scholar [LINK]”
  • 2018 - Czaykowska-Higgins, Ewa, Deanna Daniels, Tim Kulchyski, Andy Paul, Brian Thom, S. Marlo Twance & Suzanne Urbanczyk.  Consultation, Relationship and Results in Community-Based Language Research. Bischoff, S. & C. Jany (eds.) Pp. 66-93. Perspectives on Language and Linguistics: Community-Based Research. Mouton de Gruyter: Berlin/New York. Google Books.
  • 2017 - Ancestral Territories for the 21st Century.  In Entangled Territorialities: Negotiating Indigenous Lands in Australia and Canada.  Edited by Françoise Dussart and Sylvie Poirier.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.  Pp. 140-162.
  • 2016 - Thom, Brian, Benedict Colombi and Tatiana Degai – Bringing Indigenous Kamchatka to Google Earth:  Collaborative Digital Mapping with Itelmen Peoples.  Sibirica. 15(3):1-30. (original) (open access version).
  • 2014 – Reframing Indigenous Territories: Private Property, Human Rights and Overlapping Claims.  American Indian Culture and Research Journal.  38(4):3-28. (open access version)
  • 2014 - Confusion sur les territoires autochtones au Canada. In Terres, territoires, ressources : Politiques, pratiques et droits des peuples autochtones, edited by Irène Bellier. Paris, L'Harmattan, pp. 89-106.
  • 2011 - Ecosystem Guide : a Hul'q'umi'num language guide to plants and animals of southern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea.  Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group: Ladysmith and Parks Canada, Sidney. (with BT contributions to HTG-authored work). LINK
  • 2010 - The Anathema of Aggregation: Towards 21st Century Self-Government in the Coast Salish World. Anthropologica. 52(1):33-48. LINK
  • 2009 - The Paradox of Boundaries in Coast Salish Territories . Cultural Geographies . 16(2):179-205. LINK
  • 2008 - (Eric McLay, Kelly Bannister, Lea Joe, Brian Thom, and George Nicholas) ‘A'lhut tu tet Sul'hweentst [Respecting the Ancestors]: Understanding Hul'qumi'num Heritage Laws and Concerns for the Protection of Archaeological Heritage. In First Nations Cultural Heritage and Law , edited by Catherine Bell and Val Napoleon, pp150-202. Vancouver: UBC Press.LINK
  • 2008 Dis-agreement in Principle: Negotiating the right to practice Coast Salish culture in treaty talks on Vancouver Island , BC . New Proposals: Journal of Marxism and Interdisciplinary Inquiry . 2(1):23-30. LINK

Recent graduate student theses

Research video profiles

Dr. Brian Thom presents a synopsis of his research interests working in the Coast Salish communities in this video in the Faces of UVic Research series.

Dr. Thom’s research on Ethnographic Mapping as profiled in this Globe and Mail (Jun 25, 2014) video.