This Augmented Reality App Tells Indigenous Stories in Canadian Cities
[image: Megan Devlin]
Megan Devlin <>
Feb 15 2017, 11:00am
Wikiupedia aims to be a digital network of Indigenous knowledge.

Adrian Duke showed me his phone while we stood outside Vancouver's
Skwachàys Lodge. An animated raven popped up to tell me the story behind
this boutique hotel, which houses Indigenous artists and their works. The
raven was modelled on a commissioned painting by Garnet Tobacco
<>, whose
other paintings are on display inside the gallery.

Skwachàys Lodge used to just be another hotel until the nonprofit Vancouver
Native Housing Society <> took it over, in 2011. Squamish
Nation Chief Ian Campbell named it after the once-marshy land it occupies.
Now, it houses Indigenous artists-in-residence, those at risk of
homelessness who are given shelter-rate apartments, and patients who come
from elsewhere in British Columbia, on Canada's West coast, seeking medical
treatment in this city.

Duke, 30, is a member of the Muscowpetung Nation. He's developing a new
augmented reality app—think Pokémon Go—to share Indigenous stories that are
tied to physical places like this one. It's called Wikiupedia, and
Skwachàys is one of its first geolocations.

The models for Wikiupedia's animal avatars were painted by artists in
residence at Skwachàys Lodge. Image: Megan Devlin

"The app is another way that just allows people to access traditional
knowledge that isn't really readily available," he told me. "You might not
have the ability to chat with elders or hear some of these stories," but
the app allows users to experience the Indigenous history of their city.
The name is a play on wickiup, a small round tent, said Duke.

Wikiupedia <>moved into
beta this week, and Duke is working on fixing bugs as well as populating it
with stories. Just like Wikipedia, stories on the app are crowdsourced.
Right now there are six stories, all in downtown Vancouver. Duke wants to
have 600 from across Canada in time for the app's public release
<>, in June. He sees it growing to become a
digital Indigenous knowledge network.

* Read More: **This Aboriginal Keyboard App Is Helping Preserve Indigenous

Duke's project received funding from the federal government's Department of
Canadian Heritage, which is pushing Canada's 150th anniversary this year.
He says about $200,000 went into developing the app.

David Gaertner, an expert in digital storytelling with the University of
British Columbia's First Nations and Indigenous Studies program, told me
that he loves the idea.

Wikiupedia ties Indigenous stories to physical markers on a GPS map. Users
can follow trails of markers strung together to reveal their significance.
Image: Megan Devlin

"Augmented reality brings those connections between land and story back
into relief in new and exciting ways," he said. "I think [Duke is] taking
advantage of a technology that can do some real good about unsettling our
colonial interpretations of place."

Canada has over 600 First Nations
and that's not including Métis and Inuit people. That means a lot of

Duke has connected to Indigenous housing associations across Canada. Their
job is to motivate youth to submit stories. Every successful story tied to
a geographic marker will earn the creator $50.

They've also got a community vetting process.

"There are a few different authentication layers," Duke explained. "If I
was to post a story from my region, it doesn't necessarily mean that I have
to be of that nation, but in that region we have cultural authenticators."

Duke says they're planning on replacing Google Maps' default markers with
customized ones by Indigenous artists in each region of Canada. Image:
Megan Devlin

In other words, cultural knowledge-holders vet each story for accuracy
before it's posted.

"Ultimately the biggest challenge is making it as accurate as possible
without putting too many barriers in front of people," Duke said.

Gaertner said that Indigenous artists re-layering stories on the land is
not new.

He points to Quelemia Sparrow's piece "Ashes on the Water."
<> The Musqueam artist created a
podplay—similar to a podcast—that tells the story of two women on either
side of the Burrard Inlet during the Vancouver fire in 1886.  It's set a
century ago, but you're supposed to envision the story while standing on
the same beach in the present-day downtown.

"We're not being asked to step through the frame and into the art, we're
being asked to experience the land around us in different ways," Gaertner

"For me, something like The Survivors Speak series that came out of the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a really powerful example of the
role that storytelling plays," Gaertner said.

He was referring to the transcripts from residential school
survivors that came out along with the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission's report in 2015.

"I think there is just something inherently powerful about people speaking
from their own experiences in their own words," Gaertner said.

Duke hopes his app could foster reconciliation through storytelling.

"Reconciliation can only happen if somebody is interested in actually
learning and being a part of that conversation. And so I think engagement
and awareness of the culture in general is really the first step."

He hopes that Wikiupedia can preserve Indigenous culture.

"We're losing our languages and we're losing our stories along with all the
elders as they go," he said. "I think, for me, that's the most important

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