Tālofa lava ʻia ʻoutou, Bonjour à tous, Hello everyone.
Je suis passionné des langues, de la bonne nourriture, de l’océan, de la science-fiction et du futurisme autochtone. Je suis artiste, commissaire et chercheur australien issu d’origines samoanes, persanes et chinoises entre autres. J’ai terminé mon doctorat en histoires intellectuelles et esthétiques (pratiques de commissariat d’exposition) du Grand Océan en août. Je suis ravi de pouvoir travailler à l’élaboration d’une collection d’œuvres vidéo par artistes autochtones traitant ou s’imaginant les avenirs, des Amériques et du Grand Océan. Je crée des performances, installations, écrits et projets d’exposition centrés sur les savoirs incorporés, les structures cérémonielles-politiques, le renouveau des langues et les avenirs porteurs d’espoir. J’expose et publie régulièrement et sers de liaison entre nos zones au sein du comité d’administration du Collectif des commissaires autochtones du Canada. Je suis diplômé en commissariat d’exposition, histoire de l’art, cinéma et littérature comparé francophone et gestion culturelle autochtone. À bientôt au labo ou ailleurs !
I’m passionate about languages, good food, the ocean, science fiction and Indigenous futurisms. I’m an Australian artist, curator and researcher from Sāmoan, Persian, Chinese and other ancestries. I completed by PhD in intellectual and aesthetic histories (curatorial practice) of the Great Ocean in August. I’m thrilled to be able to work on creating a collection of video works by Indigenous artists set in or imagining futures, from the Americas and the Great Ocean. I make performances, installations, writing and curatorial projects centred on embodied knowledges, ceremonial-political structures, language renewal and futures that bring hope. I exhibit and publish widely and serve as a link between our regions on the board of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective of Canada. I hold qualifications in curatorial practice, art history, comparative Francophone cinema and literature, and Indigenous arts management. See you soon in the lab or around!
Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace sends you our warmest wishes this holiday season. Both in the studio and out in the world, 2018 was a phenomenal year for us! We wanted to take a moment to share some of our accomplishments and activities with you.
The new year began with AbTeC co-founder Jason Edward Lewis offering a brand new course, a graduate seminar on the Future Imaginary, in which students thought about what Indigenous life would look like in the future and the implications of this question. Students produced research papers and creative projects to articulate their own future imaginaries. Undergraduate research assistant Dion Smith-Dokkie’s contribution to our Illustrating the Future Imaginary series, Figure 4. Exclusion Zone Radioactivity, developed from this course.
AbTeC and IIF hosted a number of other workshops this year too! In April, Maize and Skawennati, this time with Producer Nancy Townsend, went to Saskatchewan to give a machinima workshop at the Regina Public Library in partnership with the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Over the course of the week, participants created a short machinima based on a Nehiyȃw (Cree) story: How the Loon Got Its Walk. Find Maize’s account of the workshop here.
From March to May, AbTeC and IIF collaborated with the Kahnawake Survival School to offer an in-depth version of our 7th Generation Character Design Workshop. In this five-week workshop, our team worked with high school students to help them imagine a descendant or community member at least seven generations in the future. Working with paper and pen, participants sketched their designs under the guidance of Jason Edward Lewis and Skawennati. Following this, undergraduate RAs Raymond Tqoqweg Caplin and Kahentawaks Tiewishaw gave lessons in 3D modelling, UV unwrapping and skin creation. Participants then created their own characters. Our lessons were punctuated by a visit from industry professionals Dominick Meissner and Vivian Herzog of Behaviour Interactive. We concluded the workshop with an in-community exhibition of 3D printed versions of the participants’ digital models! In one of our prototype Seventh Generation Character Design Workshops, graduate RA Suzanne Kite (aka Kite) developed the concept for her performance artwork Listener. An image from this piece, entitled L-Sys (Lakȟóta System), was added to the Illustrating the Future Imaginary series.
The studio was abuzz with anticipation for the 19th edition of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto, Ontario! AbTeC and our affiliates submitted four works. For our part, AbTeC and the Skins 5.0 cohort, Nā ‘Anae Mahiki, submitted He Ao Hou, the video game made during the Skins 5.0 Workshop, our first in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. Skawennati submitted her sci-fi machinima retelling of the Haudenosaunee confederation story, The Peacemaker Returns. Our research assistants were in on the action too! RA Waylon Wilson, along with his collaborator Mia McKie, exhibited their game, Nu:ya! Nu:ya! A Tuscarora Exploratory Game. And, RA Travis Mercredi’s virtual-reality walking sim, ~2700, was also featured in this year’s festival!
In November, a bunch of us attended the Indigenous Comic Con—we had a blast! Jason Edward Lewis, Nancy Townsend, Suzanne Kite, Maize Longboat, Ray Tqoqweg Caplin, Valerie Bourdon and Kahentawaks Tiewishaw all flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the three-day event. We connected with fellow Indigi-nerds and met cool artists! We even took part in the Cosplay Contest. An AbTeC team put together a beautiful costume which Kahentawaks wore, playing Otsitsakaion from Skawennati’s She Falls For Ages!
All year long, at our virtual headquarters, AbTeC Island, we have been researching what it means to create Indigenously determined cyberspaces—and what it means to be Indigenous online. A number of guests have come to our weekly visiting hours to explore and talk about Indigeneity, virtual worlds and the future. In October, we hosted a Halloween party, and just last week, a Winter Solstice Wonderland party to bring virtual and real-world guests into our little slice of virtual paradise. The project has appeared on platforms like Canadaland’s The IMPOSTER and CBC Unreserved with Rosanna Deerchild.
The studio has been bustling with residents and special guests over the past 12 months! Artist-in-residence Scott Benesiinaabandan has been working on a variety of projects over the year; his virtual-reality artwork, Blueberry Pie Under a Martian Sky, toured Canada with the 2167 project. We have also welcomed a host of guests for briefer stays. Lenape-Kiowa artist and IIF artist-in-residence Nathan Young collaborated with Suzanne Kite on a site-specific digital listening artwork. He also gave an artist’s talk, and was interviewed for our Future Imaginary Dialogues series. Filmmaker Adam Khalil and MIT Arts, Culture and Technology Masters student Erin Genia also visited us in studio! During the summer, Achimostawinan Games joined us to create a prototype version of their forthcoming, Indigenous Cybernoir video game, PURITY & decay. Meagan Byrne, Tara Miller, Travis Mercredi, Colin Lloyd and Gabriela Kim Passos were in the studio in various capacities in May and June, pushing the project forward with the support of our team. Finally, Anishinaabe comedian, writer, media maker and community activator Ryan McMahon gave an Indigenous Futures Cluster Presents public talk where he shared experiences gained through his podcast, Red Man Laughing.
As you can see, 2018 was a magical and hectic year! Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace looks forward to some regenerative rest and to a fruitful 2019. We thank you for your continuing support and interest in our mission and wish you the happiest of holiday seasons and a wonderful New Year!
My name is Kahentawaks Tiewishaw-Poirier and I am grateful to have been awarded one of the 2018-19 Milieux Undergraduate Fellowships. I come from the Kanehsatake Mohawk Territory, and I am a third year Computation Arts student at Concordia University. My research interests lie in exploring how Indigenous communities can use technology in an artistic way to pass on their respective cultures. I am primarily interested in the transmediation of traditional stories and legends.
As the use of mobile screens becomes an increasingly integral part of our lives, the way our children learn and play is changing. In order for our culture to be passed on successfully to future generations, we must invent new and interesting ways to engage with it. In a world where all media is grappling for a few seconds of our attention, we must remain relevant.
My expectation for this experience is that I will learn quite a bit about asset creation for mobile applications. Although the project that I have in mind is still a bit unrefined, I know for sure that it involves making an app that engages with my culture’s traditional stories.
My primary artistic practice is 3D modeling and I have both academic and professional experience in the field. My first professional experience came from teaching in the Seventh Generation Character Design Workshop that was offered by the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF) at the Kahnawake Survival School in the spring of 2018. In this workshop, participants imagined a character that is from a world seven generations in the future. The character was drawn, 3D modeled, textured, posed, and eventually…3D printed!
The second instance of my professional experience was in preparation for my role as 3D Lead for IIF’s Skins 6.0 Workshop on Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Design, which took place in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, this past summer. My fellow technical instructors and I were mandated to create a mini game of our own design as a test run … If we were going to teach other people how to make a video game, we had to be sure we could make one ourselves! Consequently, my last big project was my instructor role in this workshop. I taught participants all about 3D asset creation for video games.
I look forward to the things I will learn while utilizing this Fellowship!
my name is rudi, i am wolastoqew, and i come from sitansisk, so-called fredericton, new brunswick. Among many other identities i hold: i am a nitap, a multidisciplinary artist, a cultural worker, and a student. i am in the last years of my Bachelor of Fine Arts at Concordia and within this institution i co-organize the Indigenous Art Research Group and i am a research assistant at Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace and Obx Labs.
It is important to acknowledge that i am a visitor here in tiohta:ke, meqewihkuk. I have and continue to benefit from being on this territory as wolastoqiyik. I persistently and actively think about the processes that allow me to be here, away from my territory and kin. I take time to consider what this means in the greater spectrum of placehood, visibility, and traversal of (un)colonized space—which underlies the subject of my research.
My Fellowship will work through some big ideas on contact, place, and memory. I’m looking at works like The Book of Touch (Constance Classen) and Maps and Memes (Gwilym Eades), using these works to (re)frame concepts of contemporary Indigenous placehood. I am interested in the practice of navigating and experiencing space through intimate intergenerational information. How has this information been disseminated in our communities? What does this information look like, sound like, and feel like? I will thoroughly investigate memetics (akin to genetics), and ground myself in the study of how information travels through peoples, unknowingly and otherwise.
I am deeply inspired by scholars like Dr. Julie Nagam and her writing on concealed geographies, as well as Mishuana Goeman’s work on mapping. These scholars have lead me to reflect on Native Space, embodied practices of space-making, and the systematic disenfranchisement of Indigenous people through violent, colonial spatial practices.
By synthesizing this work, I suggest that counter-cartography is a decolonial and sovereign act that moves through generations by way of memes (cultural information that translates to/from minds and bodies). Ultimately, I will formulate how this informs a nuanced understanding of an inherently Indigenized sense of place.
In addition to my synthesis paper, I will work on a creation project that brings together how I use representations of cartography as a process of undertaking my own emotive literacy and self-awareness. Throughout my practice, I use abstracted, map-like imagery to explore planes of surface. I have long been rooted in painting and beading though in the past few years, I have been engaging in a more materially-based practice. This has been a move to diversify my own practice to reflect the skills that I have gained and been privileged to be gifted with. This is also a pointed choice to dehierarchize the perception of art vs. craft and again, what it means for me to have access to various institutions that (de)limit my own making. The result of this aspect of the Fellowship will be cross-medium tactile explorations of space.
I am looking forward to working on a project so close to my interests and heart. I am so incredibly grateful for the support that I have been given in all of my life’s disciplines.
In mid-November, the Quebec Library Association (ABQLA) hosted a discussion on cataloging, classification and Indigenous Knowledges at Concordia’s Webster Library entitled “Reframing Practice: Why Naming Matters.” As AbTeC begins to set up the database for the Aboriginal New Media Archive (discussed in an earlier post), issues regarding the classification and cataloging of Indigenous materials are pertinent to our project. This post summarizes the event in connection with AbTeC’s archives.
Recently, institutions and Indigenous communities have been developing protocols and strategies for institutions holding Indigenous materials. This, in part, is the result of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s call to action in 2015 which called upon “the federal government to undertake a “national review of archival policies and best practices” in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples. The Committee on Indigenous Matters at Canada Federation of Library Association recommended library systems address “structural biases […] arising from colonialism […] [by] committing to integrating Indigenous epistemologies into cataloguing praxis and knowledge management.” This recommendation was coupled with calls to “recognize and support indigenous cultures and knowledges,” “enhance opportunities for Indigenous library, archival and information professions” and implement “Indigenous Knowledge Protection protocols and agreements […] to respect the Indigenous cultural concept of copyright.”
It is clear that Western systems of knowledge management do not adequately describe Indigenous archival materials. This inadequacy, as Hannah Buckland described in her presentation, is expressed in the Library of Congress’ subject headings. For example, the Library of Congress uses the subject “American Indian — folklore” to categorize Indigenous Peoples’ cultural knowledges and storytelling. The subject heading, as Buckland notes, reinforces the colonial mystification and mythologization of Indigenous peoples and their cultures. Descriptive metadata of this kind is not only inadequate, it is a form of colonial inscription that serves to legitimize and reinforce existing biases that, historically, repeat the troubling roots of archives as part of the dispossession of Indigenous’ cultures, land, and languages. Libraries and archives have a responsibility to address how their institutions are implicated in colonial histories and knowledges and pave a new path forward in which the support of Indigenous knowledges and cultures is prioritized.
Descriptive metadata, subject headings and the ways in which cultural knowledge is accessed and deployed need to be determined by and in consultation with the communities whose cultures and materials are being represented. Buckland, currently the Service Manager at Hennepin County Library and the former Director of Library Services at Leech Lake Tribal College in Minnesota, Buckland spoke about the need for librarians and archivists to use metadata as a form of microaggression to work against existing biases and power structures within library classification.
Indigenous librarians and archivists have implemented new cataloging and classification systems that reflect their cultures and communities. Presenters Camille Callison (Learning and Organizational Development Librarian at the University of Manitoba) and Annie Bosum (Library Technician at ᐋ ᑎᐹᑐᑖᒡ ᐋᓂᔅᒑᐅᑲᒥᒄ, Aanischaaukamikw, Cree Cultural Institute [http://creeculturalinstitute.ca] in Oujé-Bougoumou) shared their respective adaptations of the Brian Deer Classification System (BDCS) to develop a more accommodating system for nations across the continent and, in Bosum’s case, at a local level. The Cree Cultural Institute updated the BC-focused BDCS to include more Cree dialects. They also removed the provincial parent heading as a category for organizing dialects because dialects do not neatly correspond to regions.
The IMCS was employed by the National Film Board in their Indigenous Cinema online collection, a project developed in consultation with Callison. Katherine Kasirer, Librarian at the NFB, discussed the project’s development and the NFB’s history of Indigenous filmmaking and films with Indigenous content. Through the project, the collection’s one access point for Indigenous content expanded to include 18 Indigenous subject headings and a searchable index of nations organized from East to West rather than in alphabetical order. This organization is part of the IMCS, and one of the ways Indigenous epistemologies in archives are enriching researchers’ interpretations and experience of data. In this case, spatial knowledge is built into the system and offers another layer of information and exploration not provided by alphabetical ordering.
Dr. Kenneth Deer from the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawake opened the morning’s discussions with Ohén:ton Kariwatéhkwen or Thanksgiving Address, the Haudenosaunee ceremony to bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the natural world. This process of beginning with words to guide intentional actions is a fitting way to begin discussions on how description and organization in cataloguing and classification practices give way to anti-colonial actions in which Indigenous cultures and knowledges are supported, not just in archives and libraries, but in the research projects they inspire, educational programming and their local communities.
The discussions that took place at “Reframing Practice: Why Naming Matters” will help guide our consideration of naming conventions and knowledge organization in AbTeC’s archives, and the eventual Aboriginal New Media Archive. As we head into a new year, 2019 will bring more archive team members and consultants to develop protocols for the archives and the launch of new public initiatives that promote Indigenous archives and archiving practices. Stay tuned!
She:kon! The leaves are colourful and the autumn chill has embraced us here in Montreal.
The big project of summer 2018 was a second Skins workshop held in Hawai’i! The game Wao Kanaka, I ka Wā Mamua, i ka Wā Mahope, developed by Hawaiians attending the Skins Video Game Workshop, is completed and ready to be downloaded and shared. We here at AbTeC thought it would be fun to have me, a Skins 4.0 alumni, play and review this newest creation. As I have not had the joy of participating in the Hawaiian workshops I can also provide an outsiders view, so here we go!
Straight from the main menu the game is charming. The game’s audio is in ʻOlelo Hawaiʻi, but you can choose to view the subtitles in English as well. There is the option to choose between Adult and Child, but I didn’t find much difference between the two. The art style of the main game is endearing, with blocky shapes and polygonal surfaces. This was a smart move for creating characters and scenery as it is less difficult to make compared to smooth and rounded surfaces. By embracing this simple style players are more likely to be forgiving of anything strange, which is crucial when a game is being made on such a time crunch as the Skins workshops have.
The voice recording in this game as characters talk and sing is quite good; nice and clear. The music is fantastic as well, and the sound overall really ‘wowed’ me. In cutscenes, where story is being told, the videos are eye-catching and creative. The work put into trying to be informative and entertaining is apparent as the storytelling aspects are succinct and don’t run on too long where players may tune out.
The minigames are a mixed bag. After hearing moʻolelo, or chanting, a typing game is unlocked. The player must type in the words in the correct order before they run out of time. It was only in this game that I noticed a difference between selecting Adult or Child at the main menu. Adult seemed to have the words fall faster while Child gave slightly more breathing room. It is a challenging game that brings to mind dark memories of playing learn-to-type games in grade school. On the plus side I did end up paying much closer attention to the words of the chant.
Another minigame comes after learning a lesson about preservation; take one fish and leave one fish. I must admit that I wasn’t able to figure out how to ‘win’ this game. I pulled in my fish and sorted them based on the vocal reactions I heard, tried to split the type 50/50, and finally just did a general even split. I had no indication if I had done things correctly or not, just the stats of fish I caught and so I eventually gave up and moved on.
The final minigame was the hardest for me. The story told here is the most dense, and I would recommend watching it twice so you can appreciate the visuals and absorb the information better. The gameplay portion is no joke! The player is tasked with creating a route for water to flow from a start point, through as many farm plots as possible, and to the reservoir. You are given two path blocks to work with and they’re randomized. The game is not afraid to mess with you and give useless blocks over and over. I really feel like luck is a necessary component to win this one.
At the end of the day you return to your home to sleep, where an ending scene told me that I had done well, but not well enough. After multiple attempts I had to ultimately accept that I won’t be the savior of the world, however if you play and win please share with us! Tweet at us or post on our Facebook page so that we can congratulate the heroes of nature, or console those who couldn’t overcome the trials.
Regardless of if you win or lose, the game is bright and inviting with an optimistic tone despite the dire warnings. I would recommend giving it a go! Once you’re done you could also take a swing at any of the other Skins games available, all were made with passion.
Last month a number of our lab members travelled to the 19th imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto, ON to take in the proceedings and represent IIF/AbTeC. From a wide array of amazing events, Undergraduate Research Assistants Ray Tqoqweg Caplin, Kahentawaks Tiewishaw and Graduate Research Assistants Maize Longboat and Waylon Wilson each chose a screening or artist talk to report on.
Hope to see you next year at the 20th anniversary of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival!
This was my first time ever attending the ImagineNative Film + Media Arts Festival. Expecting to see various great works from many talented Indigenous filmmakers, I was indeed not disappointed. Throughout the festival, many screenings had an atmosphere of Fine Art and professionalism; this, combined with the many films I had seen talking about hard, depressing topics, left me with a sober, sombre mood. That is, until the campy yet devious Witching Hour.
Expecting an hour of exclusively spooky, cautionary tales, I was delighted to find campy, B-film, budget short films, each of which made me laugh out loud with the audience! I was particularly charmed by three machinima shorts of one to two minutes in length, the first of which was entitled First Impressions, by Sto:lo / Cree artist Andrew Genaille. In it, a woman is frightened at the sight of a zombie, who then addresses her assumptions that because he is dead, and a zombie, his place is in the ground, and that he is not a normal person. He proclaims that he is and thus educates her to not cast judgment on others so hastily. To say the least, it’s a subversion gag … and I loved it.
The Witching Hour was definitely one of my favourite screenings; its tricky, kitschy tone was a relief from other, more sombre films, which is fine by me. What’s more, I’m hoping to submit one of my short films to this film block next year!
On the evening of Thursday, October 18, the legendary Abanaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin joined the festival program for an interview with Kerry Swanson, Chair of the imagineNATIVE Board of Directors. Obomsawin began by screening an excerpt from her forthcoming film, entitled Jordan’s Principle, that chronicles the story of Jordan River Anderson, a young Cree boy born in 1999 with complex medical needs. Jordan’s medical treatment was delayed because federal and provincial governments could not decide on who was responsible for paying and he eventually died in hospital at the age of five, having never lived in his family home. His story sparked policy and legal changes, namely Jordan’s Principle, which saw the federal government adopt a child-first policy to support children with disabilities in the future. As of 2016, Jordan’s Principle is now law in Canada, available to all First Nations children. However, these services remain difficult to access and Alanis Obomsawin’s film seeks to bring attention to Jordan’s story in hopes that it will help others in similar situations.
The discussion wasn’t only limited to talking about her films. For much of the second half of the session, Alanis told a story about her efforts to raise funds to create a pool for the children of her community, Odanak First Nation, before she began to make films. Since the nearby Québécois town would not allow Indigenous children to enter their pool, the only solution was that Odanak build its own. Through her hard work, determination, and help from others, Alanis was able to finally get the pool built. Ironically, when the neighbouring pool closed, Québécois children were welcomed to swim in the new pool at Odanak.
My main takeaways from Alanis Obomsawin’s interview were her wit and her generosity. She had the crowd laughing all the way through her stories, which she recounted in detail. Her strength as a person and as an issue-oriented filmmaker is profoundly inspiring and every bit deserving of the standing ovation she received at the conclusion of this discussion.
This screening included Lost Moccasin by Roger Boyer, Idle No More Ginger Cote, and Larissa Behrendt’s After the Apology. Together, these films brought to light the ongoing struggle of families who have been subjected to colonial government policies. In North America, we know of Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop, which worked to assimilate Indigenous children by removing them from their families and culture. Similarly in Australia there were the Stolen Generations, in which Aboriginal children were unjustly taken from their homes and placed with white families or in Missions.
While various apologies have been issued for these atrocities by their respective governments, their efforts have not yet ceased. Still, Indigenous children in both North America and Australia are plucked from their families under the guise of ‘child protection’ by government agencies, which lack an understanding of the cultural and economic differences between our nations. Moreover, these agencies mistake systemic poverty for neglect, and remove children to be placed in homes deemed acceptable by colonial society. Though the films often reminded me of our inherited cultural traumas, they also reassure me that we are not alone on the path to recovery. They illustrate that Indigenous people everywhere are fighting the same battles, living the same realities, and are part of the same family. What I took away from these films is this: Colonial entities recognize that in family there is strength, which is why they tried so hard to disrupt ours. Imagine the empowering effects that would come from Indigenous people across the globe recognizing our greatest strength, each other!
The Tectonic Shift screening addressed motifs such as Indigenous spiritualism, inter-generational sharing, death, relationships, survivance, and looking inward. The seven short films presented in this panel were a mix of fictional narrative and documentary, however most of these films were based on or at least inspired by true events.
The prominent shared theme of these narratives was the impactful practice of cultural and spiritual knowledge by the main characters. In Tama, a young Maori man practices and performs the Haka as a way to defend himself and his brother from an abusive relationship and alter the mind of their abuser, while in The Grave Digger of Kapu, an aging uncle teaches his nephew the spiritual significance and responsibility in digging graves for their community. In each of these spiritual short films, the characters exercise their new or existing spiritual knowledge as a way of externalizing their innate strength to make change within their relationships and community.
In the discussion panel that followed, the artists and people involved in the production shared their interrelated experiences and inspirations behind making these films. Each held a direct reciprocal relationship to the communities portrayed on-screen and contextualized the importance of each film’s message to their community.
Floppy disks, hard drives, slides, CDs, tape-based videos, paper materials, photographs — these account for just some of the materials born from Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace’s twenty plus years of production both on and offline [fig. 1]. These materials give shape to extensive networks of Indigenous artistic creation and collaboration since the beginnings of media experimentation to today, and trace a history of media art with Indigenous makers at the centre. Today, they form the basis of the Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace archives and the starting point for a much larger project: the Initiative for Indigenous Futures’ Aboriginal New Media Archive.
For the past six months, Mikhel Proulx, RA and PhD student and Art History Department faculty member, and I, research coordinator for AbTeC/IIF, have been sorting materials related to AbTeC’s activities—both in physical and born-digital formats—and sketching out possible ways of organizing and caring for them to ensure accessibility and long-term preservation. The ultimate goal is to develop an archive of the work of Indigenous new media artists, beginning with AbTeC, that is publicly available online but housed locally in the Indigenous Futures Cluster at the Milieux Institute at Concordia University. While there’s much work to be done, we’ve had a busy spring and summer laying the groundwork for the archive project that’s worth sharing!
Is This Permanence: Preservation of Born-digital Artists’ Archives
This past spring, we attended the symposium “Is This Permanence: Preservation of Born-digital Artists’ Archives” hosted at the Yale Center for British Art [fig. 2]. We presented our project alongside archivists, technologists, and curators from major institutions in North America, who, like us, are grappling with the challenges of preserving a wide range of born-digital materials and, at the same time, making these materials, or at least aspects of them, available for public access and engagement. The strategies for preserving digital artist records addressed by these institutions were diverse and, at times, improvisatory as new challenges required new methods in an ever-changing digital landscape.
The Yale conference helped us to conceptualize our project in practical terms like workflow and structure, and to draft a working list of system requirements while we researched various applications for the archive. It also helped to confirm some things we were already doing! John Bell’s (Dartmouth) presentation on practices of digital archiving within online gaming communities was illuminating for its emphasis on community-specific metadata. A historian’s perspective on what information to preserve will be different from a programmer’s, or an artist’s, or a community member’s. Learning how different communities might interact with AbTeC’s archives and the connections between these communities is an important aspect of our project and one that will be further explored in conversation with IIF partners and project stakeholders.
Artist and new media scholar Jon Ippolito delivered the final keynote “Your Archival Format Will Not Save you” in which he discussed the strategy of emulation as a viable means of preserving and experiencing web-based artworks in their original format. An emulator was used to reactivate CyberPowWow—the groundbreaking online chat room and virtual gallery of contemporary Indigenous art—for its presentation in AbTeC’s retrospective Filling in the Blank Spaces, discussed in an earlier post [fig. 3]. The keynote, and our own emulation strategies, emphasize the importance of contextualization (in our case, running CyberPowWow on the original computer program The Palace and through the original browser version) and activation over static and self-contained archival formats. We need for archival formats and archives that, as Ippolito states, “are expansive and creative enough to capture the vibrancy that makes the art of our era worth preserving in the first place.” This, and attending to the particularities of what makes this an Indigenous archive—not just in terms of content but how we build relationships between objects and entities and direct methods of engagement—steer our ongoing work in organizing the Aboriginal New Media Archive.
Artefactual Systems Access to Memory Camp
These broader considerations inform how we determine our practical needs, such as which software to use for the organization and storage of archival descriptions and digital objects. This aspect of the project has been particularly challenging in light of the proliferation of content management systems and tools available, each with their own strengths and unique capabilities. However, we have narrowed our focus to one system created by Artefactual Systems.
Access to Memory (AtoM) is a web-based open-source application for standards-based archival content and a promising option for us to implement. It is easy to navigate, accepts a variety of file types, and is integrated with Archivematica, Artefactual’s digital preservation system. As an open-source software that employs a community-based development model, AtoM is sustained by collaboration, openness and generosity—aspects of research-creation that AbTeC privileges in our own activities.
Last month, Mikhel and I attended a 3-day training and information camp for professionals working with AtoM at Robarts Library in tkaronto/Toronto. We learned the nuts and bolts of the system from inputting archival descriptions to cleaning up messy data and importing in into AtoM. It was useful to see how the system could be used to map social relationships and complexities like nationhood and multiple languages latent in our data.
As this project moves forward, we will continue to demo AtoM and determine an appropriate archival structure that supports our various needs. Further discussions on Indigenous archives and Indigenizing archives with Indigenous archivists and librarians are needed to further flesh out the project’s potentials, in addition to understanding the needs and perspectives of the archive’s users and stakeholders.
A recorded version of Sara and Mikhel’s presentation at “Is This Permanence” is available online, starting at 51:30.
Waylon Wilson is from the Tuscarora Nation, Deer clan. Raised in the Nyučirhę’e (Tuscarora Nation Territory), Waylon’s culture and nationhood are a critical influence to his research as an experimental game developer, artist, designer, and scholar; to that end, he utilizes his lens as a Tuscarora man to address critical Indigenous and environmental issues.
He is a Master of Design student at Concordia University and recently graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies from University at Buffalo, majoring in production and Game Studies. He is a Co-coordinator and Media Instructor for the Indigenous youth program, Skarùrę’ Awękwehstá:θe:’.
Waylon’s media work centers on encoding critical Indigneous thought and perspectives into interactive forms of media towards education, both on- and off-screen.
You can find more information on Waylon and his portfolio here.
This summer, from July 3 – August 3, a team of instructors made up of AbTeC staff delivered our sixth Skins workshop on Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Design. Now back at our lab and studio in Montreal, the they are putting the final touches on Wao Kanaka, I ka wā ma mua, ka wā ma hope, the game made by Ka Lei Milikaʻa–the He Au Hou 2 cohort–during our workshop at Hālau ‘Īnana in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi.
This year’s workshop was the result of our successful partnership with Kanaeokana and Kamehameha Schools. Kanaeokana is a network of Hawaiian organizations that works to strengthen a Native Hawaiian education system, ingrained in ʻōlelo Hawai‘i (the Hawaiian language) and ʻike Hawai‘i (Hawaiian worldviews).Kamehameha Schools directly educates over 6,900 K-12 Native Hawaiian students at multiple campuses and pre-schools throughout the state; they reach an additional 40,000 learners through other collaborations and programming.
The AbTeC staff are comprised mainly of Concordia students. We feel very lucky to have such talented and caring young people that we can bring with us into an experiential learning environment. We believe that while they are helping us deliver the workshop, they learn about teaching and cross-cultural communication, hone their own crafts and, we hope, make lifelong connections.
In this light, we asked the five Research Assistants who joined us to share their experiences and write about what they learned at He Au Hou 2 / Skins 6.0.
[Jason Edward Lewis and Skawennati, Co-Directors] Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace
My name is Maize Longboat and I am Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River. I served as the Assistant Producer of Skins 6.0 in the periods leading up to and immediately following the workshop. Under Nancy’s expert direction, my responsibilities included organizing curriculum documents, managing the packing of vital equipment and materials, conducting communications and liaising with participants and staff.
My Master’s research takes a practice-based approach to the study of Indigenous video games. Because of this, Jason and Skawennati offered me the possibility to attend this year’s workshop as a Participant. Having the opportunity to not only support the organization of the workshop, but to also get hands-on experience was very important for me. I especially valued learning the details of what it takes to actually make a game from beginning to end. From story and art, prototyping to programming, making games requires a lot of varied expertise and interdisciplinary cooperation. Being a part of Skins was vital for my personal growth as a game developer and researcher and I’m so thankful to have been a part of the game’s creation process.
I learned that I really enjoy prototyping game mechanics that align with the broader themes of game narrative. I worked closely on our Loko I’a (fishing) mini-game alongside another participant, Charmaine, to develop game mechanics that reflected managing food supplies. We wanted to teach players how to take only what they need, in order to ensure a bountiful future for their descendants.
Lastly, I learned that my fellow IIF Research Assistant colleagues and workshop instructors are patient and thorough mentors who cared about everyone’s learning experience. I thank them deeply for their generosity, guidance, and friendship during and after the workshop.
My fellow participants brought their good minds and work ethic into the workshop space everyday. Their desire to create a game that everyone could be proud of is clearly visible in the final product; it was because of their dedication and abilities that this game is as awesome as it is. I’m also happy to say that I made great friends along the way and I’m looking forward to witnessing how everyone utilizes the skills learned in this workshop in the future.
Speaking of skills, I learned that programming isn’t as complex as I thought that it might be! Obviously, it takes a lot of time and practice, just like any other language, but I now feel prepared to work with game code in my future projects. What a pleasant surprise!
I hope to see the partnership between IIF and Kanaeokana flourish as they conduct more collaborative creative projects. The two games produced in the past two years are fantastic examples of what Indigenous peoples can do with new media technologies when encouraged to build their capacity as creators. Nia:wen for the opportunity to contribute as both an IIF staff member and workshop participant!
Raymond Tqogweg Caplin
My role in Skins 6.0 was the 2.5D Cinematics Tech Lead and Instructor, which included camera work and the creation of background assets in the game’s cinematics, as well as instructing participants in how to write, design, and construct the artwork. My other responsibilities included teaching Photoshop and After Effects to participants, as well as lending my artistic skills when necessary.
I taught alongside one of the local staff, Vance Martin, who has decades of experience in television and corporate film production. We made a great team; his experience in technical production, coupled with my experience in artistic vision and expression, complimented each other, providing a balanced learning experience for the participants.
I learned several things during the workshop. For instance, being comfortable with speaking in front of others: I’ve always had trouble accurately expressing myself in front of large groups. Two things that really helped me through the course of the workshop were being better prepared before speaking, and, with each day, becoming more familiar with the participants.
The participants who were a part of the Cinematics team were friendly, passionate, and came well equipped: all had a basic knowledge of the software we were to work with, so it was enjoyable to expand on that knowledge since they were so eager to learn and help with the project.
Thanks to Vance, I gained a lot of experience in After Effects and general rules of production workflow. He consistently showed me things I didn’t know about the programs or workflow planning. His many years of experience left a great impact on both the participants and I.
Hello! My name is Sam and I was the Programming Lead for Skins 6.0. This role involved teaching lessons to familiarize the participants with Unity 3D, the game engine. I also taught some programming lessons to introduce the basics of code logic. I worked closely with Skins instructor Victor Ivanov and local instructor Corey Chang, which helped us give coherent lessons.
During these three weeks of fun and hard work, I realized how important it is to create a warm social context to foster learning. We were encouraged to share thoughts, food and free time with the participants, which really strengthened our ties to each other. This group cohesion was visible in the participants’ enthusiasm for the lessons. I also noticed that it is more productive to congratulate learners when they’ve achieved something they hadn’t tried before, rather than getting lost in the details of any given topic. In this way, participants build confidence and aim to tackle new challenges.
The participants of Skins 6.0 were striking in many ways: always motivated to learn new technical skills, emotionally intelligent, and culturally wise. They made me think a lot about my own culture, my relation to the land and my links to colonization. The whole experience deeply inspired others and myself. I believe that, in the end, inspiration is the most valuable thing we have to trigger changes.
My name is Victor Ivanov. For Skins 6.0, I took on the role of Level Design Lead, and I played active roles in the programming and audio units of the workshop.
I taught Level Design Theory, covering topics such as how narrative unfolds through environments, stylistic choices, and mood; through this, participants learned how to achieve these effects on a practical level. I also taught some Engine lessons with Sam Bourgault and Corey Chang, where we focused on familiarizing the participants with Unity, a game engine, and its various components. Finally, I taught the Audio and Atmosphere lessons alongside Kauwila Mahi and Matt Sproat, two very talented artists who, with their expansive approaches to making music, created a very knowledgeable and well-rounded team.
I firmly believe that teaching is one of the best ways to learn, and the workshop only confirmed this theory! On multiple occasions, a participant would notice something I had not, or have an eye for design and make beautiful levels, or come up with an interesting way to solve a programming problem.
I was impressed by how adept participants became after such a short amount of time; that meant that we all were learning. Not to mention, the sheer amount knowledge about the Hawaiian world each of them held was extremely insightful. What was most impressive was how respectful, understanding, and mature everyone was throughout the entirety of the workshop. It allowed a large group of people from different walks of life to come together and make something greater than the sum of its parts, and for that we should all be proud.
My name is Kahentawaks Tiewishaw and I’m Mohawk from Kanehsatà:ke. My role in Skins 6.0 was the 3D Lead. Along with my local counterpart, John Mervin, I taught participants 3D modeling, UV mapping, texturing, rigging, and animation.
Working with the participants was an absolute dream because everyone was as kind and welcoming, as they were talented and perseverant. Learning these skills in a very short time, and then jumping right into production is no easy feat! I’m extremely impressed with the work they all did.
Even though I was an instructor in this workshop, I ended up learning a few things myself. It provided me the opportunity to improve on my technical abilities and teaching skills. When Skins 6.0 began, I naturally had a few doubts about how good of an instructor I would be. Being able to do something yourself and being able to teach others how to do it are two entirely separate things! However, I guess you could say this experience was a bit of a trial by fire, as it forced me to look at things as if I was approaching the software for the first time. This granted me a deeper understanding of my craft.
After all, I’ve heard it said that the best way to see if you really know something is to try to explain it to someone else!