Introduction – James Sanovia – Cultural Maps, Animations & 3D Models
Hi my name is James (Jim and Jimmy are good too) Sanovia and I am an enrolled tribal member of
the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Lakota), South Dakota. My father and mother are from the Pine
Ridge Indian Reservation (Oglala Lakota) and the Rosebud Indian Reservation (Sicangu Lakota),
respectively. They moved away from the reservation during the AIM era. My love for the land
comes from my father who inspired me to do something with myself all during my entire childhood
without me even knowing it, by taking me to Makosica (the Badlands) and He Sapa (the Black Hills)
and telling me Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) needs our help. He told me to do something with
the environment, stay close to it somehow in my own way, and that there will always be a place for
I am now in my final stages of getting my master’s degree in geological engineering from the South
Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T). I also received my BS in geological engineering
from SDSM&T and also received an AA in SEM (Science Engineering and Mathematics) a pre-
engineering degree from Oglala Lakota College. I am a first generation college student in my family
and to my knowledge the only Lakota geological engineer.
I first learned what GIS and GPS was during my first internship at the NASA Goddard Space Flight
Center in 2001. At NASA I would learn to work with a multi-kilohertz microlaser altimeter, a remote
sensing instrument on board the NASA P3-B aircraft. That summer of 2001 I would be a recipient of
their most prestigious intern award, The Rahsaan Jackson Presentation award, where only 7 of 77
interns received this award for our projects. I would also take delivery of the NASA GSFC Award of
Achievement and offered to return for another internship/co-op. The summer of 2001 would set
the stage for my college career path and research missions working with cultural geospatial issues.
During and after the summer of 2001 I was able to start thinking like a geospatial Native American
engineer, if for better words combining the two worlds I live in. Since 2001 and to this very day a
good majority of my projects, whether they are directly or not to cultural, science or engineer
projects have a cultural component to them. Some projects have started with the pure intention
of just culture, the Lakota culture, in mind, where others may have originally been an engineering
project converted over for cultural purposes after the fact. Since my projects/research is in and
around the Black Hills my science and engineering projects, when finished, can be used for cultural
preservation and education of such sites since this is, after all, Lakota country. For example, my
senior design as an undergrad was dealing with ground and surface water issues at Spearfish
Canyon and the City of Spearfish, SD. The project produced geologic maps, site characterizations,
and surface and sub-surface 3D models of the terrain. This data could now be easily handed over
to a Lakota cultural instructor for their interpretation of the site. In fact, I have already been doing
such, project-converts if you will, like this with Sinte Gleska University Lakota Studies Department
on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.
The main cultural project I have undertaken is what I have been calling the Black Hills Visualization
Project, which is a project I started back in 2004. This renames historical, sacred, and any other
culturally significant site in He Sapa (Black Hills) back into the Lakota (Sioux) language. This project
is and will probably be a work in progress for some time. This project got a great boost working
with the Sinte
Gleska University Lakota Studies Department. They identified all the major and some minor
streams/rivers in about a 7 state region. These are archived in a geodatabase and the Black Hills
portion of the stream naming and are on a map I produced called He Sapa Ki Inyanka Ocanku or
the Black Hills Red Race Track. This is a poster size map created from a mosaic of landsat imagery
(thanks to USGS EROS), with the Triassic Spearfish formation superimposed on the imagery. The
formation is red and represents the “Great Race” that took place long ago against the two-legged
(birds, bears, and man) and all the four-legged animals. This is a part of the Lakota creation story,
about a great race that took place around the Black Hills to determine the fate of two-legged
There have been several other sites within the Black Hills I have done but the race track story ties
them all together. For a few years I travel to professional conferences, government, and university
(tribal and non-tribal) and other tribal settings presenting the ideal of the Black Hills project. A
Lakota kids cultural-science camp even emerged from the Black Hills project. I am preparing right
now to update the imagery from landsat to ASTER data but that takes time and a better computer
than my present one.
I never really saw much of a point in doing my past projects without having culture tied in
somehow. That being said, this has all guided my college career path, and hopefully my future
career, to lean towards geospatial or GIS and remote sensing interests and cultural mapping. My
undergrad as well as my graduate studies have been heavily GIS and remote sensed based, even
now incorporating InSAR into my thesis.
Last but most certainly not least I am most thankful for the support my wife Lilly and our kids have
given me throughout the years. I have to give much credit to my wife for helping me write and edit
several projects and reports I have done. Lilly is an excellent writer who graciously dealt with my
late nights writing and GIS work. My kids also play great roles in all of this work as well, by
adventuring with Lilly and I to these historical/sacred sites.
Indian people are very visual people and showing and inspiring them how these technologies can
be used, such as an attempt to give them a physical connection with the land, has and will always
be at my forefront. Thanks for taking the time to read my way-to-long introduction and having me
be a part of the Indigenous Mapping Network.
Anpetu Yuha Po Waste – Have a good day
The Black Hill Visualization Project was started in 2004 thanks to the
help from the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium at the South
Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
The He Sapa (Black Hills) project started out mapping or remapping and
naming cultural, sacred, historical or significantly relevant sites of the
Lakota(Sioux) . The project started out using Landsat imagery.
Maps of various sizes called the “He Sapa Ki Inyanka Ocanku” were
produced along with a relevant presentation about its Lakota named
sites and streams. Since than the project was presented at several
professional settings including tribal, government, science, university,
and public localities.
Shortly after the Black Hills project started smaller sites have been done
at specific sites, all relating to the Black Hills. A Black Hills K-12 summer
camp even emerged from the ideas of the Black Hills project. The next
few slides show products of the He Sapa map and the K-12 summer
Inyan Kaga Paha – Stone Creation Butte
(also known as Inyan Kara)
Originally a GIS project learning about geology and
the “Hydrology” and “Viewshed” tools in ArcGIS. The
image is now used for cultural education of a sacred
Originally a Black Hills cultural research site project using GIS
Since then it has gone back and forth several times from science
to cultural work.
The trees that follow the creeks curving path were digitized in
and given their 3D appearance in ArcScene.
Cultural landmark identification and geodatabase archiving.
Digitizing in Lakota Culture stories provided by Sinte Gleska University
while using DOQ’s with GIS for display and geodatabase management.
Naming Rivers and Place Names Back Into the Lakota Language
The beginning process of mapping out Lakota place names (all
rivers in blue). This work was done with the Sinte Gleska
University Lakota Studies Department and funded by USGS EROS
Science Impact Grant.
Imagery: ESRI ArcGIS Resource Center
Work with Oglala Lakota College
2005-2007 Cottonwood Great Plains Riparian Protection Project.
Using LIDAR, GIS & Remote Sensing to classify DOQ’s to identify
Cottonwoods on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (OLC)
Red River at Fargo, ND
and Moorhead, MN
Using LiDAR to help estimate flood volumes,
velocities, and areas
2 & 6 Foot Contours of River Channel
3D Model of Orthophoto - Project Site
3D Model of Cross Sections and River Channel
Estimates of Calculations (x-sections, V3, ft/sec, and A2)
LiDAR data from the USGS LiDAR Viewer.
3D Models help give a better perspective
GEOE-568 Geohazards – Graduate Class Project
Software used: ArcGIS
3D Model view of the Red River (flowing North) going
through Fargo, ND (left side of river) and Moorhead, MN
(right side of river). The blue areas are the cross sections
used in verifying calculations. The blue areas can also
represent how high the flood levels might have been
during March-April 2009.
VE = x6
TIN model of the Red River project area. The entire area shown was
created as a six foot TIN. A second TIN was than created of just the river
channel at two foot resolution than superimposed on top of the six foot
TIN for visualization purposes. The only data of concern was of the
channel so to save processing time the larger TIN had less resolution.
Island Park Cross-Section
TIN model showing the project
site with cross-sectional areas
Gaging Station Site Cross-Section
Three dimensional TIN model showing insets of the cross-sections used
in the verification process in confirming area and volume.
GEOE-766 Digital Modeling Ground Water – Graduate Class Project
Software used: Visual MODFLOW
3-D Representation of a cone of depression of the dewatering
program at the Ross Shaft at the Homestake Mine DUSEL lab.
Combining cultural mapping, 3D visualization of sites and cross-
sections, digitizing in stories, creating animated fly-throughs
with ArcExplorer and from scratch, and writing a cultural-
science field guide book – combining…
Ground water software Visual MODFLOW and ArcGIS along with
site characterizations were used in this project.
Products produced were a geologic map, 3D view of the canyon
with well sites, and subsurface modeling of ground water.
(colored red) after model
analysis. (Located on top of the
Visual MODFLOW potentiometric blue recharge volume model)
contours (colored gray) prior to
running model. (Located
underneath the blue recharge
View from southeast corner of study area.
Figure 6. View from south of study area.
Madison potentiometric surface (current)
(within model boundary) Elevation (feet)
This model represents ground
High : 5191
water that has recharged the
Madison aquifer within the model
Low : 2800
Spearfish Creek Diversion Study
Digital Orthophoto Quadrangle, DOQ (aerial
photograph), 3D view of the Spearfish Canyon Water
Diversion Project study area generated with ArcScene Pumping Discharge
3D Analyst with the DOQ draped over a Digital Well Flag Pipeline
Elevation Model. Large flags of the pumping and
monitoring wells, dye injection locations, and the
pumping well discharge pipeline have been enlarged
for visual purposes only. Image looking southward. Monitoring Injection
Data collected from::South Dakota Geological Survey Well Flags Flags
DEM from the United States Geological Survey
Spearfish Creek Diversion Study
LiDAR data (Raw) of Mato Tipila - Bears Lodge
Many geological and
cultural projects can and
will come from this dataset!
LiDAR data courtesy of Fugro Horizon’s Inc. Rapid City, SD