The Visualizing Aamjiwnaang project brings together members of the Public Visualization Lab team with Anishinaabe historian and author David D Plain as he explains the oral history of the waterways of Southwestern Ontario.
Captured in 360 degrees and by drone near the international Blue Water Bridge, in Chemical Valley near Sarnia, and in a canoe on the Old Ausable channel, this experimental documentary allows viewers to listen in on stories of how Indigenous peoples’ use of the waterways changed with the cycle of the seasons. The film examines the impacts of colonization on the landscape, and on the people who depended on it for their existence.
Filming for this project occurred in July 2018. The film is currently in post-production, and once completed and re-named it will be available for viewing online, as well as through VR headsets and Google Cardboard.
Status: Post-production; Funding: Public Visualization Lab
While I had long tapped into author David D Plain’s knowledge about his home community of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, we had not formally collaborated until July 2017 when Aamjiwnaang Heritage & Culture: E’Maawizidijig asked us to present together for “Treaty Day.” Realizing our respective knowledge bases complemented each other perfectly, we soon partnered on a two-day training workshop for a local school board. Since then, we have hosted longer training workshops with other school boards, and shorter workshops with universities, with high school and elementary students, with cultural institutions, and with First Nations.
The Treaty Workshops featured custom agendas that targeted both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants of all ages and fused traditional oral storytelling with interactive mapping, animations, and videos. We discussed wampum treaties, cession treaties, and the various ways the treaties were broken.
The goal of the workshops was to “connect the dots” between historical events of the past, the Canadian legal system, and present-day issues that teachers may find themselves discussing with their students.
David’s voice was predominant in the first half of the workshops as he discussed Indigenous spirituality, ceremonies, and traditions before leading into waterways and canoe routes. While David told the Anishinaabeg migration story and later struggles with other contending First Nations and colonial powers, I mapped his story in real-time using Google Earth. David then discussed various wars and the different wampum exchanged to end them, sharing physical items like a replica Two Row wampum and a calumet.
I used maps to explain colonization through the land agreements known as cession or “surrender” treaties. I also discussed the ways the Department of Indian Affairs broke the treaties, such as through Indian Act surrenders, the Oliver Act, and enfranchisement. Data visualization was used to explain complicated concepts, such as Aboriginal title and the structure of the Department of Indian Affairs.
Equal weight was given to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge, with comparisons drawn between worldviews as told through the Anishinaabe and Western creation stories. I often referred back to David’s portion of the workshops to stress how archival research and traditional knowledge can dovetail and support each other. The workshops ended with the topics of decolonization, reconciliation, and world-building.
David and I didn’t anticipate just how popular the workshops would become. We soon found ourselves traveling across Southwestern Ontario and received requests from as far away as Thunder Bay and Ottawa. The constant travel understandably became too much for David, so we decided to continue the workshops separately so we could have more flexibility. Since then, David has focused on Indigenous culture workshops with school boards closer to his home on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, while I’ve conducted workshops that focus on cession treaties and the Indian Act.
We also continue to work together on other creative endeavors, such as a 360-degree documentary on waterways that we filmed with the Public Visualization Lab. A launch date for that film will be coming soon!
Ogimaa Mikana is an artist collective founded by Susan Blight (Anishinaabe, Couchiching) and Hayden King (Anishinaabe, Gchi’mnissing) in January 2013. Through public art, site-specific intervention, and social practice, Ogimaa Mikana asserts Anishinaabe self-determination on the land and in the public sphere. In the spring of 2018, an Ogimaa Mikana Community Newsletter was developed as part of the Diagrams of Power exhibition in the OnSite Gallery at OCAD University. In preparation, Monica had the opportunity to work with Hayden King for a fast, one-month stint to assist in building a database of the original place names for downtown Toronto in the Iroquois and Anishnaabemowin languages.
Monica began work on the database by reading the research report for the Williams Treaties and focusing on Treaty 13A. She then sifted through an extensive online catalog of the first maps of York, combing the images for any mention of place names or the original landscape features before they were altered through colonization by the British. For each new entry into an Excel spreadsheet, Monica also created a pin on a Google Map with a short, cited description of the location. As the map filled up with pins, a mental image of the de-colonized landscape emerged.
Using this information, combined with their own knowledge of pre-colonial Toronto, Ogimaa Mikana walked out several routes near the downtown core. Capturing their routes digitally, they shared that data with Indigenous academics Margaret Pearce and Eliana MacDonald to create counter-maps of the city. Combined with a set of directions, articulated in Anishinaabemowin, the piece was presented in the form of a community newsletter, free for viewers to take from the Diagrams of Power exhibition space.
Before it became a real digital prototype with an accompanying 115-page written thesis document, The Ipperwash Beach Walk was a simple collection of ideas and aspirations. This Master’s thesis began with a review of Indigenous Methodologies as a way to begin to decolonize what had previously been a very colonized approach to research. From there, the co-design method was chosen as a way to work with the Chief & Council of the Kettle & Stony Point First Nation to ensure the project benefitted the community and reflected its values.
The research began with an hour-long focus group session with Chief & Council where the group reviewed a mass of photographic content collected for Monica’s previous film projects. The photos were attached to a 10-foot long map of Ipperwash Beach, organized along a timeline in chronological order.
A second hour-long focus group session with Chief & Council reviewed the timeline of photos and identified areas where there was a gap in the story. For instance, Councilor Pete Cloud noted that species at risk and invasive species should be added as an important topic to address. This suggestion and others were added on Post-It Notes before the entire timeline was photographed and shared with the band administration for dispersal to the entire membership.
This focus group content became the basis for a GPS-guided story for mobile devices which could be accessed during a real beach walk along a historical trail between the Kettle Point Reserve and the Stony Point Reserve. The next steps involved forming the focus group content into a story and using locative technology to deliver the content to audiences.
The Ipperwash Beach Walk uses a storytelling platform built for mobile to explain how Ipperwash became a vacation destination. Using GPS, the platform delivers documentary media and interactive visualizations to smartphones during a real walk across Ipperwash Beach.
As participants cross a series of GPS points during the 2.7-kilometre walk they learn how the area was colonized by settlers. The experience is a form of counter-mapping, using “before and after” photos and interactive maps to discuss topics such as treaties, the Indian Act, and the environmental impacts of colonization.
The Storytelling Platform
Created through the Public Visualization Lab at OCAD University, In-Situ Data Stories is a digital platform designed to deliver multimedia content to mobile devices as users travel across a terrain.
Using locative technology, the platform launches video, interactive visualizations and audio as users cross through pre-set zones. The content builds to tell a story that unfolds during an embodied walk across a landscape.
The In-Situ Data Stories platform is intended to be open-source and free to use. It can be used in any location to tell site-specific stories.
As of April 2016, the platform was functional and could be accessed by anyone with a smartphone or tablet and access to The Ipperwash Beach Walk through a web browser. While the content available through the platform was bare-bones, the project was awarded the Medal for the Digital Futures program at the 2016 GradEx Graduate Exhibition.
Status: Completed (storytelling platform) + Unfinished (content) Funding: Public Visualization Lab (storytelling platform) + Self-Funded (thesis document + content); Future funding ideas: Canada Council for the Arts’ Digital Strategy Fund
Phase 2: Huron Tract Treaty Map
Interactive Map (2017)
Approved by Chief & Council in March 2017, this project was pitched as an interactive map that would become the first scene within The Ipperwash Beach Walk. The interactive map would work on smartphones and was to contain a timeline that could be swiped with a finger, causing a map of the Huron Tract to morph as negotiations for the land cession progressed from 1818 and 1827.
Two focus group sessions were held at the Kettle Point Elder’s Lodge in April and October of 2017, open to the entire Kettle & Stony Point community. Both were underattended, for a variety of reasons. During the first session, some community members requested handouts from the researchers (versus them sharing their own knowledge, as was advertised) and they departed when handouts were not provided. Those who did attend were not able to share any knowledge about the treaty negotiations.
It soon became clear the historical knowledge being sought through the focus group attendees was too obscure, and was not easily accessible to the average person. With further archival research, Monica also concluded that Joan Holmes’ work for the Ipperwash Inquiry barely scratched the surface of the Huron Tract story. After re-assessing the project, she spent her remaining contract hours on further archival research to ensure the final interactive map would be legally and factually accurate. Monica soon turned to her Treaty Workshop partner David D Plain from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, and to Janet MacBeth from the Bkejwanong Heritage Centre. While both researchers are extremely knowledgeable about the Huron Tract, the boundaries of the treaty area continued to remain elusive.
At present this project remains half-finished, requiring further archival research to “crack the case,” as well as coding to create the interactivity of the map.
Status: Unfinished; Requires further research + coding; Funding: Public Visualization Lab; Future funding ideas: Business development grants + Canada Council for the Arts’ Digital Strategy Fund