Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement contributes to a joint initiative in Indigenous schools
Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement has teamed up with the McCord Museum in Montreal and the Indigenous-led digital initiative UHU labos nomades for a new education project with Indigenous youth.
The UMITEMIEU initiative will focus on introducing digital photogrammetry — the extraction of 3D information from photographs — and creating virtual educational collections by and for five Indigenous communities in Quebec.
Throughout the year, and as health measures permit, a team will travel to meet with young people in Wendake, Unamen Shipu, Manawan, Kuujjuarapik and Kangiqsualujjuaq to conduct a series of workshops.
A real-time digital experience
The core of the activity is the interaction that youth will have with both physical and virtual objects as they discover photogrammetry.
Stephane Nepton is Abenaki-Innu and cofounder alongside Andrea Gonzalez of UHU labos nomades. Nepton will facilitate the workshops that will allow students to create virtual 3D visuals as they discover digital arts.
“We teach students how to take 3D pictures, transform them into holograms and how to reuse them using different methods. Then all that imagery is compiled to create a virtual catalogue,” Nepton explains.
At the end of the workshops, each school will own its unique collection. “All 3D images created by the students and all the content they have generated from the objects will remain the property of the schools and can be reused for educational purposes,” he adds.
For Nepton, this project is an opportunity to share his passion with the younger generation and to influence more Indigenous youth to enter the digital industry.
“Indigenous communities are underrepresented in the field, yet there are many great opportunities, especially in the video games industry,” he says. “I hope we can capture their curiosity and inspire them to consider digital arts as a career option.”
Connecting with Knowledge Keepers
About 15 objects from the McCord Museum’s Indigenous Collection and Educational Collection are being used for the project. To fully accomplish their objectives, members of the team conducted extensive research to generate as much knowledge as possible about each item.
To do so they enlisted the support of Emilio Wawatie, a Concordia student and storyteller from Barriere Lake and Kitigan Zibi Algonquin-Anishnabe. Wawatie joined the OCE as an intern and has been contributing to the project since spring 2021.
“Getting a true sense of an object would have been very challenging without the input of the Elders,” he notes.
Elders and Knowledge Keepers from the participating communities were called upon to help unveil the history and cultural meanings of some objects.
“We can learn so much from what is written in the literature, but meeting with Elders, speaking with the people who carry the knowledge, the cultural and spiritual meanings of an object, deeply solidifies the written component,” Wawatie says.
‘Adapting as we go along’
The project was made possible following a grant from the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications, allocated after the COVID-19 pandemic’s social-distancing measures came into effect.
“We had to find new ways to make the museum’s collections available to students,” says Leïla Afriat, project manager at the McCord Museum. “With UMITEMIEU, we are bringing objects into the schools, into the communities, and we are also creating a space for collaboration with students and Elders to generate educational and meaningful content.”
Given the unique context and culture of each community, the workshops are tailored to meet the learning objectives of the individual schools, notes Geneviève Sioui, the OCE’s Indigenous community engagement coordinator.
“To truly achieve our goal and make the project a success, we take a very flexible approach,” she says. “Our philosophy is to be as agile as possible and adapt as we go along to respect the values of each community and put their needs first.”