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Celebrating Indigenous Tech

Multimedia & DesignCommunity & Social Media

This month is National Indigenous History Month in Canada, an opportunity to honour the history, heritage and diversity of Indigenous peoples in our country. To celebrate the creativity and contributions of Indigenous communities from coast to coast to coast, this week we are excited to showcase some of the latest initiatives at the intersection of technology, digital media, and social change!

Bringing Indigenous Voices to the Tech Sector

Indigenous peoples are the youngest and fastest growing demographic in Canada, yet in 2018 only 1.2 per cent of Canada's tech workers identified as Indigenous. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called for the adoption of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a pathway to ensure equitable access to jobs, training and educational opportunities for Indigenous people. In the tech sector, several nonprofits have been working on precisely this goal, leveraging the reach and potential of technology to create opportunities for greater representation, inclusion, and participation in the industry.

  • The Centre for Indigenous Innovation and Technology (CIIT) is a Toronto-based nonprofit whose mission is to address the underrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the tech and innovation sectors in Canada. They work to ensure that the industry is meaningfully engaged in reconciliation and is committed to promoting diversity in the workforce. Their programs offer both technical training as well as the promotion of tech-enhanced problem-solving from an Indienous lens.
  • In North Vancouver, the First Nations Technology Council is another nonprofit working to ensure that Indigenous Peoples have the tools, education and support they need in order to thrive in the digital age. The organization is mandated by Indigenous peoples in the province to advance digital and connected technologies, and has developed the Indigenous Framework for Innovation and Technology as a blueprint for advancing digital equity and economic reconciliation in collaboration with government, industry, and other members of the tech ecosystem.

"Canadians don't always think of Indigenous peoples as technologists and entrepreneurs, but we're reclaiming those identities”. ––Jeff Ward, Animikii

In addition to improving access to tech infrastructure and capacity-building, a number of powerful initiatives are leveraging digital tools to make waves in education, arts and design, media, and more. Below is a round-up of some of the most inspiring Indigenous-led projects and opportunities currently underway across the country:

Image Credit: All My Relations podcast.

Digital Arts & Design

  • Animikii, which means thunderbird in Anishinaabemowin, is a registered B Corp––a corporate model of “business as a force for good”––that strives to support social innovation through Indigenous technology. The organization has a 15-year track record of delivering solutions exclusively for Indigenous communities, and is the digital agency behind beloved projects like Indian Horse (the movie adaptation of Ojibwe writer Richard Wagamese’s award-winning novel) and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, among others. Don’t miss their excellent piece, Move Slow and Empower People: Animikii’s Approach to Indigenous Technology to learn about how technology can solve problems while encouraging and respecting relationships.

  • ImagiNATIVE is the world's largest presenter of Indigenous screen content, considered globally as the centre for Indigenous media arts. Its recent initiative is a partnership with Netflix that offers 6 months of professional development to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit filmmakers looking to develop a short narrative film script from concept to final draft. Applications for the Indigenous screenwriting intensive close June 26th, 2020.

  • ImagiNATIVE is also partnering with TakingITGlobal to launch at-home training for students interested in learning digital skills online or through the Create to Learn app. The project is looking for Indigenous artists, authors, and mediamakers with skills in digital content production who can create and share video-based tutorials for the platform––with a stipend of $250 per video. Submissions are open until August 17, 2020. 

  • To address the “severe lack of Indigenous representation in most stock imagery available online”, Six Nations community members have created a database of stock images to serve the development corporation as well as other organizations in the community who require stock photography that is more representative and inclusive. Read more about their story in this CBC interview with its founders.


Image Credit: @chiefladybird

Education

  • Whose.Land is a web-based app that uses GIS technology to assist users in identifying Indigenous Nations, territories, and communities across Canada. The app can be used for learning about the territory on which homes and businesses are situated, as well as finding country-wide information for land acknowledgments and treaties. (For more on land acknowledgments, see also this beautifully animated video uncovering an oral history of Tkaronto hosted by Local Love.)

  • Connected North links students in the North together with experts from around the world through a series of live interactive video sessions that bring exciting new resources to the classroom. So far, experiences have included live science experiments, a Q&A about life in space with an astronaut, a tour of a Roman art gallery, and more. Those interested in offering their expertise can submit the Guest Speaker/Content Provider Interest Form to be considered for participation. The initiative also regularly organizes virtual career fairs, cultural exchanges and capacity-building opportunities. One example is the Cisco Networking Academy, which has recently opened the Networking Academy at Arctic College in Nunavut to help provide the resources to keep the Connected North network thriving.

  • Indspire believes that Indigenous education is Canada’s future, and works in partnership with Indigenous, private and public sector stakeholders to disburse financial awards, deliver programs, and share resources with the goal of increasing graduation rates for Indigenous students. Increasing their investment in technology is a core tenant of their current strategic direction, and there are several ways to donate and support their work in this area.



Image Credit: Métis in Space 

Indigenous Media

Digital platforms and tech tools are making it easier than ever to learn from and support the work of Indigenous mediamakers and journalists. In addition to national platforms like CBC Indigenous and APTN, several independent initiatives are revolutionizing the way that Indigenous content is produced and shared online. In this round-up, we’ll focus on podcasts in particular. Click on the links below to tune in!

  • Indian & Cowboy is a member-supported Indigenous media network rooted at the intersection of digital media, podcasting, and Indigenous storytelling. The network creates, produces and publishes projects both online and on broadcast media. This year, Indian & Cowboy’s incubator program is supporting the development of nine new podcasts and continues to accept member support for its programming through Patreon donations.

  • The Henceforward is a podcast that holds space for conversations about the relationship between Indigenous and Black people in Canada, exploring topics that range from Black Lives Matter to reconciliation, gentrification and more.

  • The Secret Life of Canada is a CBC podcast that “highlights the people, places and stories that probably didn't make it into your high school textbook”. Following the success of its first season, the podcast now offers teaching guides as well as classroom-ready adaptations of popular episodes for Canadian students.
  • Métis in Space is a podcast that reviews sci-fi movies and TV series from a decolonial perspective, featuring “Indigenous peoples, tropes and themes”.

  • Indigenous Innovators profiles Indigenous leaders, activists, artists and entrepreneurs “to better understand the challenges and opportunities Indigenous People face in Canada today.” 

For more on Indigenous media, this round-up by UBC’s First Nations and Indigenous Studies program offers links to regional news outlets across the country, many of which are available in digital format. If you’d like to follow more Indigenous podcasts, check out 9 Great Podcasts Hosted By Indigenous Women and an Index of Indigenous Podcasts to get started.


Image Credit: @artbyciara for All My Relations podcast.

Indigenous Futures

Lastly, we want to highlight a handful of initiatives that are creatively (r)envisioning the future of Indigenous culture, health and socio-economic wellbeing across the country:

  • The Initiative for Indigenous Futures works with artists, academics, youth and elders to imagine how Indigenous communities will look in the future. One of their goals is to encourage Indigenous youth to see themselves as producers, not just consumers, of digital media. Their workshops are led and designed by Indigenous team leaders who help participants transform a personal story into content like a playable 3D video game or short movie with avatars and actors.

  • The Indigenous Peoples Resilience Fund (IPRF) is an effort to respond to urgent community needs in the face of COVID-19 while taking a long-term view of resilience and future wellbeing. Any Indigenous-led organization or Indigenous-serving organization working to foster resilience in Inuit, Metis and First Nations communities anywhere in Canada can apply for resiliency funds ranging from $5,000 to $30,000.

  • Sacred Earth Solar is providing renewable energy to Indigenous communities across Canada with projects such as the Piitapan Solar Project, a 20.8kW renewable energy installation in Little Buffalo, Alberta that powers the local community health centre and has reduced the community’s reliance on fossil fuels. Check out their APTN Power to the People docu-series to learn more about how the clean tech revolution is empowering Indigenous communities across Canada and around the world.

  • Lastly, for those with a passion for technology and digital media, DevDegree offers up to $10,000 in financial support to help remove financial barriers for Indigenous students applying for a Computer Science degree from either Carleton or York University. The four-year program includes an integrated learning component in partnership with Shopify, which covers tuition costs and offers a salary along the way. Students work 25 hours/week on real projects at Shopify while taking classes, and do not need prior computer science or programming experience to apply.

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As Animikii’s founder said in a recent interview with the National Observer, "Canadians don't always think of Indigenous peoples as technologists and entrepreneurs, but we're reclaiming those identities”. Today, Indigenous communities are bringing their visions and values to the technology ecosystem and presenting solutions that are making the sector more equitable, inclusive, and diverse.

If you’d like to keep celebrating National Indigenous History Month, check out APTN’s page to learn about influential Indigenous people and their important contributions to society. And don’t miss Animikii’s Virtual Things You Can Do To Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day––as they write, “the activities listed here are not exclusive to National Indigenous Peoples Day. These are things you implement into your everyday life to acknowledge and support First Nations, Inuit, and Métis throughout Canada.”