In order to address this question you will need to refer to Sparke’s article, “A Map that Roared and an Original Atlas: Canada, Cartography, and the Narration of Nation.” You can easily find this article online. Read the section titled: “Contrapuntal Cartographies” (468 – 470). Write a blog that explains Sparke’s analysis of what Judge McEachern might have meant by this statement: “We’ll call this the map that roared.”

“We’ll call this the map that roared”. It was the simple power of this statement that attracted me to this topic. Even before realizing this was the focus of one of the questions, this quotation had caught my eye and imagination. I say imagination because it certainly wasn’t the rational part of my brain; at the time I had no idea what could possibly be meant by such a statement. Other than maybe a map out of Dora the Explorer.

My understanding of the momentousness of this statement was increased once Sparke explained that Judge McEachern hadn’t even finished opening the map when he made the statement (Sparke 468). Its obvious then that the Judge’s premature statement wasn’t even in response to the map. Instead, he was reacting to his preconceived notion of what this map would be, or what it would say. The map didn’t roar. Or maybe it did. But it seems like either way Judge McEachern wouldn’t have been able to hear it over the sound of his own opinions.


Regardless of what prompted McEachern to make this statement, the question remains as to what he meant by it. In his article, Sparke offers two possible explanations: one probable, and one less so.

The less likely of these two explanations is that the Chief Justice’s comment was in reference to “the resistance in the First Nations’ remapping of the land: the cartography’s roaring refusal of the orientation systems, the trap lines, the property lines, the electricity lines, the pipelines, the logging roads, the clear-cuts, and all the other accoutrements of Canadian colonialism on native land” (Sparke 468). This reading sees the roaring map as a symbol of indigenous defiance, a fierce desire by the Gitskan and West’suwet’en to stand up for their traditional lands in the face of colonial oppression. This reading would also require Judge McEachern to have recognized and understood this defiance. While this interpretation is heartening, it doesn’t seem to agree with the Chief Justice’s final decision on the case, or the picture of McEachern that emerges with his judgment. The kind of man who references Hobbs when he describes the life of the Gitskan and West’suwet’en as “at best nasty, brutish, and short” seems unlikely to have this type of insight into the motivations of these peoples. This interpretation also doesn’t fit with McEachern making this statement before he had even looked at what the map showed.

Sparke’s alternative explanation is that Judge McEachern was making reference to the idea of a ‘paper tiger’: a thing which appears threatening but in reality isn’t. If the Chief Justice was making his statement today, he might have said that the map was ‘all bark and no bite’. Alternatively, McEachern’s statement might have been a reference to the 1959 movie “The Mouse that Roared” , a satirical Cold War Era film. As Sparke points out, if either reference was what McEachern intended it would suggest that the Judge’s comment was a “derisory scripting of the plaintiffs as a ramshackled, anachronistic nation” (Sparke 468). Rather than a recognition of the wishes of the Gitskan and West’suwet’en, this reading implies a profound lack of understanding of these peoples. And even more worryingly, a sense of lightness and humor towards a piece of evidence which had the potential to influence the way of life for entire groups of people. Unfortunately, I think this interpretation seems to better fit the image of McEachern that emerged in this trial.


This is where Sparke’s analysis ends, which I think is a shame, as McEachern’s comment seems to contain an incredible amount of meaning despite being only 7 words long. I’ve already mentioned the importance of when the Chief Justice made this comment (before even seeing the map in its entirety), but I also find the pronoun that McEachern chose to be incredibly significant: he used ‘We’.

McEachern is just one man, yet he seems to be speaking for a group. The question then becomes, who is this group? Is it the people in the room? Does he include the representatives from the Gitskan and West’suwet’en in this ‘we’? Does he mean Canadians? Does he mean European Canadians? Or is it just a term of courtroom etiquette? This plural pronoun is obviously open to multiple interpretations, some more damning than others, but all with interesting implications.

I’m fascinated to see how others have interpreted McEachern’s statement and Sparke’s subsequent analysis, as I’m sure my views aren’t the only interpretations!



P.S. I did have an issue with Sparke’s article, although this gripe is mainly one of style. Needless complexity always gets my hackles up, and Sparke seemed to be even more gratuitous in his language use than most. But rather than getting into it, I’ll direct those interested to this great article in The Atlantic. I wouldn’t even have mentioned it except that I think the use of jargon and unnecessary complexity to ensure the exclusivity of academia has interesting parallels to the way indigenous peoples have been excluded from mainstream society here in Canada.


Works Cited

Adesriza. “I’m The Map – Dora The Explorer – Kids Song Channel.” YouTube. YouTube, 06 July 2013. Web. 28 June 2016.

Clayton, Victoria. “The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 26 Oct. 2015. Web. 28 June 2016.

Sparke, Mathew. “A Map that Roared and an Original Atlas: Canada, Cartography, and the Narration of Nation.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88.3 (1998): 463- 495. Web. 26 June 2016.

“The Mouse That Roared.” IMDb., 1959. Web. 28 June 2016.