An outfit designed by Robyn McLeod called "Seventh Generation," modelled by Jada Jerome. Photo: Cathie Archbould
A Northwest Territories symposium is exploring how Indigenous people imagine themselves in the future, from teaching language and traditional knowledge using virtual reality to an Indigenous outlook on artificial intelligence.
The Symposium on the Future Imaginary launched online on Thursday. Hosted by Dene Nahjo and Western Arctic Moving Pictures, or WAMP, the four-day free event features northern and international speakers, films, and an in-person exhibit.
“It’s awesome to have these kinds of conversations taking in a bunch of different people’s expertise talking on a lot of relevant issues,” said Davis Heslep, WAMP’s programming and outreach director.
“Also different collaborative possibilities, like the whole popping the bubble of where we think art can go that is created in the Northwest Territories.”
As part of the symposium, an exhibit titled Indigenous Futures: Rooted and Ascending will open on Friday with a gala at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. The exhibit features work from NWT Indigenous artists that explores what the future would look like if colonial oppression didn’t exist.
“Art is an important part of our communities, our society. It really helps us see things from a different point of view,” said artist Melaw Nakehk’o, who curated the exhibit. “For this show, I really hope that people could imagine things differently, like a different type of future we want.”
The exhibit and symposium centre on Indigenous futurisms, a term coined by Grace Dillon – an Anishinaabe professor at Portland State University – in a nod to Afrofuturism. The term describes work that places Indigenous people and traditional knowledge in a futuristic setting.
Casey Koyczan, a Tłı̨chǫ Dene artist from Yellowknife, has his work featured in the exhibit and is presenting at the symposium.
“It’s about showcasing our people and our practices from the North in a new and exciting and engaging way,” Koyczan said.
He said virtual reality allows people to be immersed in stories and ideas, and other digital tools can help people to access cultural learning.
A highlight of the exhibit will be a large moosehide dome, made of raw hides from the Dehcho and suspended from the museum’s ceiling. It will form the screen for a 360-degree video of a moosehide tanning camp that took place in Łútsël K’é this summer.
“It’s been very interesting working with moosehide in a different way,” said Nakehk’o, who is also a moosehide tanner.
“It’s another form of storytelling. It’s also creating something new, out of materials that we’ve been using for thousands of years, to communicate how important it is for us and how versatile and innovative we are with our materials – and how we want to share our culture and share our teachings with people.”
Gwichi’in fine jewellery designer Tania Larsson helped to construct the installation.
“I always was extremely attracted to digital arts and using it as a tool to express myself and my culture,” she said.
“We get to share these practices that we’re still very much doing today, and that is not a thing of the past. So it’s a beautiful way of showing that.”
The exhibit will run at the museum until December. For those who can’t make it to Yellowknife, there will be a simultaneous virtual exhibit at the AbTec Gallery on the online platform Second Life. Next to that gallery, there will be a virtual version of the Roaring Rapids Hall in Fort Smith that will feature the exhibition Trails and Overflow, curated by Heslep, about ongoing work at WAMP to bring digital media skills to northern youth.
Other artists whose work is featured in the exhibit include Kablusiak, Margaret Nazon, Riel Stevenson Burke, Robyn McLeod, Siku Alloolloo, and Cody Fennel.