Last week we unboxed a beautiful pink, pregnant mannequin! It was the latest installment of a project that began with the 2017 machinima, She Falls For Ages.
Throughout 2018, Skawennati worked with a team of AbTeC/IIF Research Assistants to create a cosplay version of Otsitsakaion—also known as Sky Woman—from She Falls for Ages. The 2017 machinima is a sci-fi retelling of the Haudenosaunee Creation Story, in which Sky Woman falls from Sky World and creates our world. In her recent work, Skawennati explores material practice in relation to its virtual counterparts—what does it mean to create physical objects that exist in digital worlds?
To delve into this research, she enlisted the help of Producer Nancy Elizabeth Townsend, and Research Assistants Suzanne Kite, Kahentawaks Tiewishaw, and Valerie Bourdon. At the Milieux Institute in the Textiles and Materiality Research Cluster‘s space, the team worked together weekly creating and modifying patterns, programming digital embroidery on the amazing Tajima machine, and developing hair and make-up. After months of prototyping and construction, Otsitsakaion’s dress was successfully transformed from the digital form into real life!
Undergraduate Research Assistant Kahentawaks Tiewishaw was the first to don the costume when she premiered it at the 2018 Indigenous Comic Con in Albuquerque, New Mexico!
Since then, Skawennati has engaged IIF Artist-in-Residence Dayna Danger to photograph her wearing the Otsitsakaion costume for a project not unlike the 2015 Dancing With Herself, which first appeared in The Rebel Yellsexhibition at the FOFA and later in Tomorrow People at OBORO.
The new mannequin was custom-ordered and took 14 weeks to get here—half of the time it takes a baby! Watch Skawennati and Nancy unbox it in this video.
Here at the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF) and Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC), we are dedicated to Indigenous perspectives and imaginings of the future. In my research as a Master of Design student, I examine interactive practices of Indigenous peoples, especially of my own Tuscarora Nation. By developing a better understanding of the principles behind cultural practices, such as wampum belts and traditional games, we can better understand how to utilize modern technology as a tool in which we can embed our contemporary culturally perspectives for future generations. What I have observed is that visions of the future imaginary and alternative realities can be realized through numerous forms of media.
I recently represented AbTeC/IIF as an assistant instructor during a mini workshop series led by Stéphane Nepton and Andrea Gonzalez, co-founders of Uhu labos nomades. Uhu labos nomades is a non-profit that supports the perseverance and academic success of Indigenous Youth through digital arts immersion workshops and conferences; hosted both in schools and in community. Uhu places great importance on issues related to low retention rates, loss of identity, and sustaining cultural health. They focus on the enhancement, dissemination, and transmission of Aboriginal culture through digital arts, which is for them an essential bridge between elders and the current generation.
Uhu collaborated with Native Montreal and Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) to assemble a 4-part workshop series that introduced Indigenous Youth to the process of imagining and creating their own 3D environments, complete with visual effects such as weather. Uhu, with the help of the OCE, reached out to us about the workshops. There were eight Youth who participated in the workshops of varying backgrounds with little to no experience in digital media creation. Specials guests, Jason Edward Lewis and Skawennati, co-founders and co-directors of AbTeC and IIF, greeted the participants one day and provided a tour of IIF’s creative headquarters. This was an exciting opportunity for participants to see where we build our digital imaginings, experience one-on-one time to ask questions about our creative process, and gain some insight into the collaborative environment of Indigenous future-making. With Stéphane’s instruction, participants took a hands-on approach to creating a world of their own imagining with virtual 3D tools.
When the time came for the first workshop, Mother Nature had imagined her own visual effects and sent a radical blizzard to welcome each of us! However, the storm didn’t stop our dedicated participants! Eager to dive into some digital-3D fun, several participants arrived, including two who came all the way from Quebec City! Stéphane, a professional visual effects artist, demonstrated the creative and persuasive abilities that visual effects could have in a viewer’s experience with digital works of art. Visual effects are illusions and manipulated imagery that have been added to a videogame’s gameplay that give the gamer a more life-like or immersed experience. Examples of common visual effects in games are animated elements such as smoke, fire, rain, fog, or any kind particle emissions such as sparks and fireworks. Stéphane demonstrated that visual effects can in fact be a self-standing work of art.
Participants learned how to use free gaming engines to create digital 3D worlds as a form of expressing oneself in a virtual environment. Using premade 3D models such as mountain faces, rocky terrains, and other earth textures—provided by Stéphane—students assembled landscapes of their own desire and imagining. Students who had next to no experience in using computer programs gained competencies; by the end of this series, they had no problem performing basic 3D building tasks and creating special effects.
Once the students had learned how to create a basic 3D environment, they were then introduced to how to simulate weather, fire, snow, rain, and wind. Stéphane walked participants through customizing 3D effects tools to realize the designs they had in mind. The results resembled futuristic depictions of landscapes typically associated with Indigenous nations in the Great Plains such as teepee villages; these designs juxtaposed themes of old and new knowledge and practices within a single environment. Students shaped their landscapes to imagine environments with unique narratives, what feel like multiple visions of alternative realities.
In the end, participants had an exciting time expressing themselves through these 3D digital tools, and some even informed us that they had downloaded the software to carry on their work at home, developing their environment and imagining new ones! Native Montreal and Uhu labos nomades hosted a brief awards event to showcase the students’ work and to recognize the unique qualities each student displayed in the workshops. Attendees could experience the worlds through a virtual reality headset; this gave both the creators and audience an entirely new, life-like encounter with the artworks.
For my part, it was exciting to be part of the students’ digital environments and the environment of the classroom and maker-setting. The collaborative makerspace that we shared as learners and media makers reflected how AbTeC and IIF create camaraderie and support in imagining futures together as Indigenous peoples. Being part of this experience, sharing these digital tools while empowering each other to imagine and create futuristic digital environments, serves as a good reminder to imagine and create our own Indigenous futures here in the real world.
The Indigenous Futures Cluster Wikipedia Edit-a-thon focused on the improvement and creation of Wikipedia content about Indigenous new media artists in North America and the Pacific. We provided tutorials for beginner Wikipedians, supported and researched materials for editing Wikipedia articles and, in particular, built capacity for Indigenous participants to manage and determine how their cultures and communities are represented in cyberspace.
Why an Edit-a-thon? Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia populated by users (usually on a volunteer basis) who edit and generate its content. Anyone can become a Wikipedia editor–you just need a username and password—and can add, change or remove content to an existing article or create a new article from scratch. It can be a wonderful platform to promote knowledge-sharing, empower people to participate in knowledge-making and open access to information.
However, the content on Wikipedia reflects the interests of its users—a demographic of mostly white, English-speaking men in North America. According to Wikipedia’s Writing About Women page, as of 2016, only 8.5 to 16.1 percent of editors on English Wikipedia are women. This underrepresentation of women, people of colour, Indigenous peoples, and LGBTQ+ identified in the makeup of Wikipedia’s editors skews the platform’s content and reflects existing social biases. (For more on this see Wikipedia’s pages on racial bias and gender bias. Wikipedia’s Racial bias on Wikipedia page acknowledges the lack of Black history on Wikipedia due to articles predominantly being written by white editors.)
We organized the Wikipedia Edit-a-thon knowing that Wikipedia lacked both content about Indigenous cultures and communities, and content written by Indigenous editors. We wanted to contribute to rectifying that by recruiting Indigenous people and allies to become Wikipedia editors and use the platform to support Indigenous cultures and communities through knowledge-sharing and -creation.
Why address Indigenous New Media History? As
a research cluster dedicated to Indigenous digital media
research-creation, we know that the rich history of Indigenous digital
art practice has been poorly documented and largely ignored in art
historical texts (though there are people working to resolve that!).
Despite this historical absence, Indigenous artists have been at the
forefront of experimentation and innovation in media and digital art
practices for the past two decades. In Rudi Aker’s interview with the
Kahnawake radio station K1037 about the edit-a-thon, she addressed this
lack of documentation using the example of multidisciplinary artist
Adrian Stimson, who was awarded the prestigious 2018 Governor General’s
Award in Visual and Media Arts—he did not have a Wikipedia page! There
are many examples of notable Indigenous artists working with digital
technologies whose histories remain underrepresented and unacknowledged.
We compiled a list of these artists and during the edit-a-thon, we
updated their existing Wikipedia pages or created new ones!
What did we do? Amber Berson, ambassador for Art + Feminism and Wikimedia Canada, led a tutorial about how to edit in Wikipedia and helped us feel comfortable with the platform. Following Amber’s tutorial, Dr. Greg Younging, a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba and author of Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing by and about Indigenous Peoples(2018), gave a Skype presentation about methods for writing about Indigenous peoples and cultures respectfully and appropriately. Dr. Younging’s book is the first style guide dedicated to Indigenous content for editors and publishers to use, alongside their chosen in-house style manuals, to responsibly publish Indigenous literature. After we were nourished and hydrated with some lunch, we applied Younging’s principles to our communal editing session!
Prior to the Edit-a-thon, Research Assistants Charissa Von Harringa and Rudi Aker identified some of the gaps in information about Indigenous new media artists on Wikipedia and compiled a list of articles for editing and creation. They also gathered resources from the web and pulled literature from AbTeC/IIF’s library to use for research. Our list of tasks was then added to our Event Dashboard for editors to browse and assign themselves projects. The Dashboard will remain active for a year so we can track our edits and continue to work as a group.
By the end of the day, we had made over 60 edits, edited 17 articles, and added 4,510 words to Wikipedia! Pages for artists including Raven Davis, Pia Arke and Amanda Strong were improved with more citations, copy edits, infoboxes, and lengthier edits such as the creation of new sections. A page was created for Cree and French Métis theorist, curator and artist Âhasiw Maskêgon-Iskwêw, one of the most prominent figures in Indigenous new media art. Now a record of his career exists on Wikipedia to help document his legacy.
It was a gift to take part in the Sites Queer conference at the University of Puerto Rico – Río Piedras School of Architecture, organized by Dr. Regner Ramos.
The informal space around the panels and presentations yielded the most fruitful dialogue—in turn generating new, and likely longlasting, kinship networks. The house that we cohabitated became a site of queer kinship that wasn’t predicated on transactional sex but rather a space of mutual support, encouragement. I was especially grateful for this when the digital project I had come to present crashed unexpectedly as a result of receiving 3000 new submissions in a period of 6 hours. What would have otherwise resulted in a lonely anxiety spiral was softened by words of encouragement and the physical closeness of nènè and Léuli as we convened around the dining room table.
On the final day of the conference, nènè myriam konatè and I led our workshop Prototyping for Emergent Queer Spaces with a group of about 14 new kin from Borinquén/Puerto Rico, Tiohtià:ke/Montreal, Tkaronto/Toronto, Mannahatta/New York, Shawmut/Boston, Checaugou/Chicago and London. We began the workshop by collectively sharing stories of queer experience with particular attention to the role of place within these narratives. What was intended to be a one-hour storytelling session extended laterally into a three hour outpouring of queer feeling, traversing intergenerational care, non-sexual intimacies, family, death, racialization, diasporic identity, sexual harassment, transhumanist becoming, among other tentacles of experience. From here we moved into the prototyping session of our workshop, in which we reframed our stories through nènè’s yes and also… methodology, which encourages us to come to new understandings of our self-concepts by replacing negations with affirmations. Drawing from our reframed personal narratives, we prototyped speculative queer futures composited from our experiences of joy, pain and resistance.
Our final day in Borinquén/Puerto Rico was spent at El Yunque, a rainforest in the northeast of the island. Jason Baerg shared with us the proper protocol to thank the Taíno, on whose territory we had stayed the past five days. We reflected on the imposition of the poured concrete path that structured our movement through the rainforest, and the ways in which it inhibited the kinds of relations were possible with all of the non-human life that enveloped us. That the concrete path functioned as an infrastructural tool that drew a harsh line between the human and the non-human – the rainforest as something to be looked at, consumed and contained rather than something to form an equitable relationship with. The colonial implications of these architectural interventions came into sharper focus upon seeing bright orange plastic barriers littered throughout El Yunque. Bearing the insignia of the US Forestry Department, the barriers route flows of human and non-human life and underscore Borinquén’s continued occupation by the American Empire.
The specificities we were learning on each day of the conference about the colonization of Borinquén by the United States after Spain struck and stuck with us. On the periphery of the American Empire, the tropical heat was so familiar and encompassing whilst still a departure for our sensibilities from the winter wonderland of the Canadian Shield and its cities. Compellingly, the generosity between and beyond the two languages occupying space in the same place at the same time in the Sites Queer conference—Puertorriqueñx Spanish, American English—also enabled the francophone delegates to converse freely without the usual defensiveness of anglophones in Canadian contexts.
The parallels also between processes of recovery and resurgence in queer Indigenous practices, networks of care, histories embodied and enlivened within Jason Baerg and my own presentations—and nascent conversations and aesthetic interventions into Puertorriqueñx Indigeneity—were emotionally and spiritually important. The intervention into the Euro-American theoretical and historical dominance of capitalized Queer Theory and Queer Art History that networked global Indigenous artistic and curatorial practices bring into being was another welcome departure from United States-specific discourses. These fail to link Indigenous resurgence and peripheral American territories’ claims to self-determination as being interlinked with queer freedoms embodied and socialized. Indeed, the illegal overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani in the sovereign Hawaiian Kingdom in the 1893-1898 period and the seizing of Borinquén/Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines from the Spanish Crown are integral points in the development of the armature of empire—this time a carceral settler-colonial state that punishes perceived deviance from Caucasian heteropatriarchal norms.
New sustained relationships with kin from near and far garnered through all our presentations, participation in the workshop, and hanging out—particularly the queer architectures exhibition opening on campus curated by convenor Dr. Regner Ramos, the Drag King night at a local queer bar, the unexpected gift of a free Princess Nokia concert in support of the brutalized local trans queer non-binary community following a savage murder weeks earlier, and time visiting in Old San Juan, the beach, and the forest in El Yunque proved this journey to be much more than salvatory, but a transformational experience. Muchísimas gracias a todxs.
My name is Dion Smith-Dokkie and I’m AbTeC/IIF’s social media coordinator!
For nearly a year, our team has been collaborating with the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KORLCC). Together, KORLCC and AbTeC/IIF are creating an animated version of the Rotinonhsión:ni (Haudenosaunee/Iroquois) Creation Story in Kanien’kéha (the Mohawk way, i.e. language). The section we are currently working on is expected to be a fully-animated 30 minutes in length and will be the shortest of three sections—in other words, this project is huge!
After months of curious listening and brief updates, I had the chance to sit in on one of our monthly meetings—I was absolutely thrilled! First, some context.
The Initiative for Indigenous Futures has institutional and community-based partners throughout Canada, whom we collaborate with on many great projects. One of our local community partners is the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KORLCC). Based in Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory, which is on the south side of the Kaniatarowanénhne (St. Lawrence River) across from Montreal, KORLCC works to preserve and promote the language and culture of the Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke. We were positively thrilled when KORLCC accepted our invitation to collaborate with them!
We joined the project at the end of the writing phase. KORLCC Curriculum Resource Director Trina Stacey oversees the creation of Kanien’kéha language learning materials, which range from books to audiovisual materials to real-world activities. This animated version of the Tsi Tiotonhontsatáhsawe (the Creation Story, “when the earth began”) in Kanien’kéha will be used as a multimedia language-learning tool!
Trina and KORLCC Graphic Artist and Cultural Liaison, Teiowí:sonte Thomas Deer have spent over a decade developing the script and art for this project. By the time we joined forces, Trina had meticulously combined and adapted a number of oral and written versions of the Tsi Tiotonhontsatáhsawe into a three-part script. Simultaneously, Teiowí:sonte worked with Trina to create concept art for the characters, settings, and scenes described in the script.
Enter AbTeC/IIF! We’re very proud of our team whose expertise, experimentation, and dedication are making for an electric and exciting process. In her role as IIF Partnership Coordinator and as an artist who has directed her own machinima, Skawennati connects us with KORLCC and, as the project develops, provides advice and feedback. Nancy Elizabeth Townsend is mentoring and assisting Waylon with project management, deadlines and workflow optimization.
Last summer, Research Assistant Kaia’tanó:ron Dumoulin Bush worked with AbTeC/IIF to create an initial version of the animatic—a motion storyboard—for the first installment of the Creation Story. She currently works with Teiowí:sonte to make edits, compile assets, fill in gaps in the original animatic, and prepares the environment of each scene.
Graduate Research Assistant Waylon Wilson is the lead project manager, handling the organizational aspects of the project; he also turns the motion storyboard into an animatic by layering each scene’s image-files, determines camera movements and angles—this way of working is known as 2.5D animation since a number of flat, unique images (assets) create a dynamic, deep space where components can move individually. At this point, the 2.5D animation is ready to get moving! Undergraduate Research Assistant Ray Tqogweg Caplin is the main animator. One of Ray’s most demanding tasks is the creation of character puppets. Ray takes the character artwork and segments the bodies based on where joints are and the range of movement required by each character.
While 2.5D animation is not new, we’re proud to have developed an innovative workflow adapted to the needs of this project. By using Duik 16 (Bassel), a free open-source After Effects plugin, After Effects’s capacity to support puppets has drastically improved. This reduces the number of platforms required to produce the animation and creates reusable, interchangeable character puppets. .
By making space in the workflow for character modification and the reuse of character puppets and animations, our process is streamlined! But let’s not forget about environments and camera movements. The many layers that form each scene are constructed to move in relation to the camera, which creates depth of field (perspective) in the animation. The joint AbTeC/IIF-KORLCC team reviews each final-draft scene together in which they approve the draft or return it for further adjustment.
My head was spinning at our most recent meeting. Above all, I was totally absorbed in seeing how the team works together. These meetings create an exciting space where we make the visual elements and Kanien’kéha storytelling resonate with one another.
Scenes must reflect the deeper symbolic meaning of the script. For instance, determining the layout of the village in Karonhià:ke (Sky World) aligns with the responsibility described in the name of Rarón:tote, the Guardian of the Standing Tree.
Our meetings are opportunities to identify inaccuracies. One assumption was that, like on Earth, the sky in Karonhià:ke would also appear blue. This is not true in the context of the Creation Story since the sky, as we know it, appears much later in the narrative. Together, we decided to use a half-twilight, half-galaxy sky to be more faithful to the story.
The team also worked through technical uncertainties. For example, how could we, with our restriction to 2.5D animation, establish 3-point geometric perspective inside of a longhouse? We wanted to avoid the need to re-draw the interior each time we moved the camera. Instead, Ray proposed that we create a 3D rectangular prism in which we could insert existing concept art of the longhouse interior (imagine wallpapering the inside of a virtual box). The scene’s layers, such as the puppets, could then be placed on top of this environment and the camera movements would then create the illusion of dynamic space!
Getting to see the thought process behind certain creative choices was fascinating. The collaboration ensures that deeper meanings and connotations are embedded in the visual elements. With this in mind, it was energizing to think about how the Creation Story shapes and is reflected in the lives of people today.
At one point, Trina Stacey explained the deeper meaning of a scene in the story. Rate’seróntie’s (The Uncle) has received a premonition of Iottsi’tsíson (Sky Woman) descending into our world. The premonition is jarring because it shows the Uncle a thought that has never existed before. The Uncle’s dream initiates a sequence of events that will create Turtle Island!
As someone looking in from the outside, I felt a beautiful resonance between this idea in the Creation Story—the idea of how momentous a new way of thinking can be—and the process and purpose of the Tsi Tiotonhontsatáhsawe project: to facilitate Kanien’kéha language learning so that students can see the world in a new way, through the lens of their language.
I would like to thank Skawennati, Nancy Elizabeth Townsend, Sara England, Trina Stacey, and Waylon Wilson for their help in preparing this introduction.
Jesse Tungilik is an Inuit interdisciplinary artist based in
Iqaluit, Nunavut. He is primarily interested in conceptual sculpture blending
traditional and contemporary materials and themes that explore social and
political issues faced by Inuit today. He started his artistic journey as a
ceramicist at the Matchbox Gallery in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut at 8 years old and
had his first public show of his artwork at a bank lobby in Yellowknife when he
was around 11 years old. He has also worked as a jewellery artist under the
mentorship of Mathew Nuqingaq at the Aayuraa Studio in Iqaluit.
Jesse spent much of his young adulthood in the civil service
working for the newly formed Government of Nunavut where he became an arts
administrator eventually becoming the Manager of Cultural Industries for the
Government of Nunavut and then the Executive Director of the Nunavut Arts and
Crafts Association. He currently is chair of the board of trustees of the
Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit and member of the Inuit Leadership
Group of the SSHRC grant funded Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership Project.
Many of his conceptual sculptures of late have been inspired
by and explore the intersection of government policy and legislation and their
adverse impacts on Inuit culture and language, as well as the continued
colonization and assimilation of the Inuit into the Canadian body politic. He
draws from his experience in government, and from the intergenerational trauma
inherited by his father who was an outspoken Residential School survivor to
create his art partly as a means to facilitate his own healing and to reconcile
his frustrations from working from within and working against government
agencies throughout his life.
As Artist-in-Residence at Concordia he will continue his
artistic practice focusing on contemporary and conceptual sculpture and design.
He has a number of creative projects that he is very excited to pursue while in Montreal.
Kaia’tanó:ron Dumoulin Bush. Ribbon Dress. Acrylic on panel. 2018.
I am back at AbTeC after completing my BFA in Indigenous Visual Culture at OCAD University. In December, my first solo exhibition TOO MUCH NOT ENOUGH opened and closed successfully, ending a chapter in my academic journey. I showed eight paintings and one sculpture that combined the artistic practices of the Onkwehonwe and French-Canadian sides of my family in different ways. In these works, I reject and question quantifications of worth applied to me by others, society, and myself—such as blood quantum—and in turn, disrupt expectations imposed on Indigenous women and makers. I will be showing select works from this exhibition at GRAD EX 104 from May 1st to 5th OCAD University. Hopefully, I can maintain a painting practice now that I am out of school!
Otherwise, I’ve been keeping busy! I am currently part of the Encore! Sistema team at the Karonhianonhnha and Kateri schools in Kahnawake. We have a concert at Oscar Peterson Hall on March 31st if you want to check us out. The kids are working so hard! I am also working on a short graphic novel anthology for Feathers of Hope and the-now-decommissioned Ontario Children’s Advocate called Blueberries; Healing the Circle, which will be published online near the end of the month.
At AbTeC, I am honored to be working on the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Centre Creation Story project. I am painting backgrounds and assets that will showcase great animation work and tell the Kanien’kehá:ka creation story. This is my first time painting to accompany animation and it is a great learning experience for me. Having worked on the first draft of the animatic this past summer, it is great to see the awesome job Ray Caplin did adding his magic touch, fleshing out and tidying up my (very) rough work— making it more cinematic. The prolific Teiowí:sonte Deer created the concept art for the project; learning to emulate his aesthetic and artisanship has become a fun challenge for me. I find myself tuning into stylistic details that I would have never noticed before. On top of this, I get to do my work on my new Cintiq Pro 16 that I got over the holidays, it is super portable and it is really speeding up my working processes!
I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2019 brings. Keep making!
You can learn more about Kaia’tanó:ron’s work here!
(2019-03-05): We have some exciting news to share! As of today, the Contact project has been given a new title: Terra Nova. The decision to give the game a more formal name came from the project team’s desire to better encapsulate the meaning of what this game is about. Although the main conflict of the game’s narrative is indeed first contact, Terra Nova is truly about its two main characters, the worlds that have shaped them, and the future worlds yet to come.
Terra Nova also has its own website! There you can sign-up to receive updates on future play tests and release dates. Visit www.terranovagame.com to learn more.
She:kon! Maize Longboat and creating contact:
My name is Maize Longboat and I’m a graduate research assistant with the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF) and in my second-year of the Master’s in Media Studies program at Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies. Presently, I’m in the middle of working on the “creation” half of my research-creation thesis project that explores Indigenous videogame development. To do this, I’m making my very own game, from start to finish, to respond to the following research question:
“What makes Indigenous videogames and how will the game created as part of this project be informed by my own experience as an Indigenous person?”
I found a number of videogames made by or in consultation with Indigenous people that I will discuss in my research, all of which are unique in their own ways. It proved to be a challenge when my supervisor asked that I offer a hypothesis on what actually makes a videogame Indigenous. Indigenous identities are vastly diverse, so defining what is and what is not Indigenous is something that I alone cannot determine. However, I can offer what I feel are the most important qualities that an Indigenous videogame might carry with it. The following lines from my proposal clearly state where I stand:
“Whether an Indigenous videogame is made by an individual or team of Indigenous developers, or by non-Indigenous developers working in consultation with an Indigenous community, it is determined by Indigenous peoples. The development process, from beginning to end, must be Indigenous-led.”
This is exactly what I set out to do in creating my own game. The only challenge was that I had never actually made a videogame before. Instead of beginning with a game mechanic like running, or jumping, or shooting projectiles, I started with a central scenario that I frequently come across while studying Indigenous histories. I wanted to make a game out of a moment of first contact between an Indigenous and Settler peoples. These moments of encounter and communication are always the spark of larger events; only recalled to frame larger, more important narratives that come after. This game focuses on the lead-up and moment of first contact between Indigenous characters and Settler characters and how they react to one another’s presences.
Thanks to the generosity of the Hexagram Network and Social Science and Humanities Research Council, I have the funds to hire a small team to help fill in for my technical shortcomings. I brought in a Lead Developer, Mehrdad Dedashti (mdehdashti.com), to handle programming and integration tasks, an artist, Ray Caplin (portfolioofraycaplin.tumblr.com), to create visual assets and animations, and a sound designer, Beatrix Moesrch (framingnoise.com), to bring the game-world to life. It was really important for me to get people who not only had strong technical skills, but who also cared about working on an Indigenous-led project. I had to go through a few interviews before I could settle on a team that I could trust to support my research in that very specific way.
As I assembled the team, I was also designing a narrative that would speak to my central game scenario of first contact. The story takes place on Earth far in the future, long after an environmental catastrophe forced a number of humans to abandon the planet in an attempt to settle somewhere better out in space. The humans that were forced to stay on Earth adapted to their new environment and eventually forgot about the ones that had left them behind. Earth is still healing and high-water levels from melted polar ice caps cause erratic weather patterns. Earthborn humans live high atop the overgrown, ruined city-structures built ages ago to escape these unpredictable tides.
After several millennia of attempting to locate a habitable planet, Starborn humans have now unknowingly returned to their ancestral homeland to finally settle.
This moment of first contact between Earthborn and Starborn humans is experienced through the eyes of Terra, an elder Earthborn landkeeper, and Nova, a Starborn youth.
The game will offer a two-player, cooperative experience where each player plays as either Terra or Nova simultaneously. Both players can interact with each other, non-player characters, and objects in the environment to progress through the narrative. At first, each player starts in their own specific zones before the Starborn spaceship crash lands on Earth. The crash separates Nova from his community, while Terra witnesses the crash and sets out to investigate. The two eventually come across one another, sharing that moment of first contact between Indigenous and Settler peoples, and must then cooperate to help Nova find his people and ensure that Terra can find out what the Starborn people want.
I’ll be working with my team for the next several weeks to finish the game so that we can move into the playtesting phase. (Stay tuned in to AbTeC social media feeds for the exact date and time!) After the playtests I will be taking the reflections provided by players and making final changes right before I dive headfirst into the writing process.
At the beginning of the year, I began a new artwork called Listener, which developed from my research and conversations at AbTeC. Listener was premiered at SAW VideoKnot project space / espace projet Nœud in Ottawa, Ontario, and performed at Concordia as an Indigenous Futures Cluster Presents event. I am most proud of having performed and installed Listener at Racing Magpie in Rapid City, South Dakota to an audience of Lakota friends and family. Later in the year, I performed Listener at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria and at 24 Hour Drone Hudson Basilica in New York. Since then a video version of Listener was screened at Echo Park Film Center in LA as a part of Art at Tongva. Listener was also installed as a video in the “Live Long and Prosper” exhibition at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
I made a second new work called Better Off Alone, an installation and internet chat room, where the typing of the audience is sonified into drum n bass. This piece was installed at InterAccess in Toronto, curated by former AbTeC RA Lindsay Nixon. I closed out the installation with a performance of a work addressing imagined and real space through jungle sample sounds in a piece titled, junglejungle at InterAccess.
I collaborated extensively last year with Nathan Young, who came to Montreal as an artist-in-residence at the Indigenous Futures Cluster, resulting in a completely new project called something is coming. In the fall, Nathan and I participated in a residency at the M:ST Performative Art Festival in Calgary, where we created and performed 12 new sound works for the project, all focusing on sonifying the electricity grid.
Finally, my research into American mythologies of Indians and aliens was published by Un Projects, titled “Who Believes in Indians”. The research into Lakota ontology and Lakota concepts of nonhuman animacy, which I first lectured about at the Zooetics Symposium talk and panel at MIT, was then published in collaboration with Jason Lewis, Noelani Arista, and Archer Pechawis as “Making Kin with the Machines” published in MIT Journal of Design and Science. In a similar vein, I am now the Coordinator for the upcoming Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence workshops!
2018 was a super productive year, and I am glad for my role as an RA for the Initiative for Indigenous Futures.
It was in the last few years of my Bachelor of Arts at the University at Buffalo (UB) that I really began exploring interactive forms of media. I discovered the digital world of 3D environments, video games, mobile applications, 3D printing, and even dabbled in wearable electronics. I come from a vast digital media background, but before UB I mainly focused on digital video and audio production. Now that I’m entering my second semester as a Master of Design student here at Concordia University, I’ve really begun to focus on experimental game development and to explore the outcomes of designing for this technology as Indigenous people.
My work aims to embed critical Indigenous thought into interactive media by exploring various realms of technology and what these tools have to offer us as Indigenous media makers and consumers. The digital flood of technology immerses us daily in wave after wave of new gadgets and applications and it is up to us whether we want to embrace this technology or not. Indigenous people often have stigmas associated with using digital technology, especially when it comes to our more traditional knowledge and practices. I’m exploring how these technologies can enhance our ways of thinking as Indigenous people. My goal is to find useful ways to integrate this technology into our lives to as an ongoing practice of our traditional knowledge rather than have it act as an intrusion or hindrance to these ways of knowing.
In order to better understand where Indigenous-determined uses of technology can take us, I look to the ways Indigenous peoples have always engaged with media and technology. As a citizen of the Tuscarora Nation, I draw on the visual and interactive designs in our Haudenosaunee beadwork, wampum, carvings, and other objects used to embed our stories and teachings. The media we use to document our teachings are never only media objects, but are used on a daily basis and meant to be interacted with. Some of these designs are kept with us on a daily basis such as the beadwork we wear or etchings carved into pottery. Other media forms such as wampum belts include more complicated interactive designs and can be interacted with in different ways; they can be read from the front, the back, upside down, and even looped around to connect back to itself in an infinite cycle.
Our grandmothers and grandfathers were intuitive visual and interactive designers. I often find myself referencing their complex work and the ongoing critical thinking and practices of our Indigenous peoples to ground myself and inspire my thinking as well. Working as a Research Assistant for the Initiative for Indigenous Futures has been a big help in directing my recent work. I hope that all of us as Indigenous media makers across Turtle Island can begin to level up this digital era we live in together.