Using Immersive Technology to Explore Indigenous Stories

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Using Immersive Technology to Explore Indigenous Stories

Leveraging technology we have an exciting opportunity to relive history like we never have before. Kris Hodgson-Bright, from Lethbridge College is leading an applied research project to bring the 150 year old Battle of the Belly River to life. The battle was one of the last conflicts between the Cree and the Blackfoot which took place in the Lethbridge area, and the last major battle between First Nations on Canadian soil. About a year after this battle in 1871 the Cree and Blackfoot signed a peace treaty. 

The project was born when Kris joined a committee on Truth and Reconciliation to better understand the steps that Lethbridge College can take to honour the traditional lands of the Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot Confederacy). While brainstorming different ways to create Indigenous learning opportunities, such as through a museum exhibit or providing access to Indigenous books Kris proposed harnessing immersive technology to explore the historic battle through experiential learning.

With the support of grant funding, a team has been assembled including three college alumni from the Augmented Reality certificate and Multimedia production diploma programs as well as seven Blackfoot students from the Indigenous Pathways Program. The first step in the immersive project was to assess and complete photogrammetry of artifacts from both the Galt Museum in Lethbridge and the Esplanade in Medicine Hat. They then sought out two Indigenous Elders who recounted the story of the battle on the 152nd anniversary. The team will be transforming traditional and 3D video of the battle site and audio recordings from the Elders into an immersive VR experience. They will also transform the space using projected images and audio recordings for a walking tour where the battle was fought.

On the subject of why these mediums were chosen, Kris shared that he “wanted to have several entry points for people to learn about the history of the Battle of the Belly River. Having a VR experience on its own could be limiting as only so many people can experience this over a set period of time.” By choosing multiple mediums it ensures that the public can engage with the battle in multiple ways. “I wanted to ensure we had ways to project footage on the walls of the museum, an audio walking tour for those who enjoy being in nature and on the land where the battle was fought, drone footage from two significant sites that mean so much to the Blackfoot people, as well as photogrammetry to recreate artifacts digitally.” 

When asked how the Indigenous subject matter influenced the process he noted, “The entire time I am working on this project I am stopping to pause and engage with Indigenous people to ensure we are honoring the Blackfoot voices to tell this story. While Blackfoot voices have been represented in previous publications, it was mostly white settler and colonial perspectives that were shared.” 

This project is a partnership between Lethbridge College, the City of Lethbridge, the Galt Museum, Lethbridge Historical Society, and Reconciliation Lethbridge. It will be available for viewing at the Galt Museum September 2023.