Voices of Amiskwaciy is a digital public space that supports the community to create, share, discover and celebrate local Indigenous content online.
With the support of Canada 150 grant funding, Edmonton Public Library (EPL) has worked to develop this initiative in consultation and collaboration with Indigenous communities and individuals in Edmonton. Voices of Amiskwaciy is a space owned by the Indigenous community. Amiskwaciy is short form of amiskwaciy-wâskahikan which translates to “Beaver Hills” in Cree and refers to the Edmonton region.
EPL has collaborated with Indigenous communities and individuals in creating and sharing stories and content on the site. We will continue to work together to gather, create, host and share stories in the form of text, videos, sound files and images. Stories that can support learning, understanding and celebration of Indigenous Peoples.
The values that underpin this initiative were formed through several community discussions and consultations, including a pipe ceremony led by Elder Wilson Bearhead. The process has been fluid and responsive to community feedback. This includes all development aspects of the website, programming, outreach and communications with Indigenous communities. With this guidance from Indigenous communities, this digital public space provides open access, tells stories that Indigenous people choose to tell.
We have adopted the 7 Sacred Teachings, also known as the 7 Grandfather Teachings. These values are universal and provide a solid, ethical framework for Voices of Amiskwaciy. The storytellers also embody the values through sharing of their stories. Described below are the values that support how Voices of Amiskwaciy strives to be a safe and ethical digital space:
- Love: Engaging in relationships from a place of kindness, caring and compassion and supporting of self-determination.
- Respect: Creating a safe space where stories are valued.
- Courage: Committing to follow through on project goals.
- Honesty: Being transparent about the process and progress of the project to the public.
- Wisdom: Seeking out and including Indigenous knowledge throughout the project development.
- Humility: Working in meaningful partnerships on an equal plane and being open to learning and embracing new ways of understanding, acting and knowing.
- Truth: Creating an authentic Indigenous space where truths can be shared.
This project is just as much about process as it is the product. To create a digital space reflective of Indigenous communities, it was important to first learn and understand community perspectives, hopes, concerns and visions. To do so, we held five community consultations with Indigenous community members, leaders and organizational professionals.
What we asked about:
- Sharing and Content: What kinds of content people wanted to share and see in this space and how this content should be shared and seen.
- Aesthetics: What should this space look like? How should people navigate through it? What kinds of imagery, colours and symbols should be included? How could we make the look of this site meaningful?
- Features: What kinds of features would be good to have on the site (Commenting, Tagging, Mapping Tools, Social Media Tools, etc.)?
- Impacts: What kinds of impacts and outcomes does community want to see for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people?
- Project Name: What should this space be called?
- Concerns and Challenges: What concerns do communities have in creating and sharing content? What challenges and barriers might communities face in participating? How can we overcome these concerns, challenges and barriers?
What we heard:
Community members are excited about the potential of strengthening understanding of culture, history and Indigenous experience for all Canadians, and the importance of a safe space and maintaining ownership of their content. Below are several key points and overarching themes that emerged during consultations:
- Ownership of stories belongs to the storytellers and/or creators.
- Creation of a safe space and support people who may be emotionally triggered.
- Include Indigenous people in the process, connecting with and consulting with Indigenous people, especially Elders.
- Inclusion of personal stories, healing stories, family history, traditional knowledge, urban experience, arts, spirituality, reclaiming culture, language, territory.
- Stories create a sense of belonging.
- Opportunity to learn from Elders and others through stories.
- Possibility to create mutual respect, empathy and empower each other through stories.
- A space to celebrate Indigenous history, present and future, culture and achievements through stories.
- A space to educate people about important issues, community concerns and experiences.
- A place to preserve stories to be shared by future generations.
- People, place and inter-connection are important factors in imagery and aesthetics.
This project has and will continue to involve ongoing consultation and collaboration as it continues to grow and develop. We have also continued to work with and seek guidance and feedback from Elders, artists, youth, educators and the general community.
The Voices of Amiskwaciy logo represents Indigenous oral tradition. The logo is designed in a circular pattern as circles have special and varied meaning to Indigenous groups in North America. The 4 circles at the top of the logo represent stars which also signify stories. Knowledge keepers have said that stories are associated to the stars, and have been passed down for generations. Telling stories is an important way of preserving Indigenous culture and history. Often stories are passed from an older person to a younger person so traditions carry on, the two people in the logo are united to represent the interconnection and sharing that happens through this type of knowledge transfer.
The image and creative concept of the logo was designed by Lese Skidmore. The text and logo style guide was developed by Fox Design.
Through the community consultations, we were provided with many different visual themes. EPL’s team, along with the Yellow Pencil web design team, collaborated with several Elders and Indigenous visual artists to incorporate their feedback into a unified vision of what the website looks like.
Our page starts with the constellations at the top, which represent how many Indigenous people believe that life came from the stars as told in creation stories. As the image moves down it blends into a beautiful sunset in the Amiskwaciy area on Turtle Island. The photo adaption of this landscape was taken at Elk Island National Park. This is a place that has been home to many different Indigenous groups throughout history and today, within Treaty 6 territory.
On the land is a tipi, a safe, welcoming place, a place to share stories, it is home. The tipi that is layered into the image comes from a photo that Indigenous writer and artist, Brian Cardinal contributed to the site.
Below the tipi and trees is a flowing river. The river is a connector of people and a life giver. The North Saskatchewan River is an essential piece of our identity and history in Amiskwaciy. The river winds its way through featured stories to the bottom of the page as it becomes rapids, winding through rocks. On either side of the river is medicine, sweetgrass, when used it takes prayers back to the spirit world.
We selected Mukurtu CMS (MOOK-oo-too) as the platform to host and manage content for Voices of Amiskwaciy. Mukurtu is an open-source content management specifically designed to manage and care for Indigenous content online. The Mukurtu project began in the Warumungu Indigenous community in Central Australia as a collaborative project to produce a safe-keeping place to store and share content online. Mukurtu is a Warumungu word meaning ‘dilly-bag’ – a community safe keeping place for sacred items.
The Mukurtu platform allows for community partners to control and curate their own collections, manage, preserve and share their content in a culturally relevant and ethically-minded way that supports a wholly collaborative process. To learn more about the Mukurtu platform and project, visit the Mukurtu site: http://mukurtu.org/.
To fit the needs of the Voices of Amiskwaciy in terms of features, usability and design, we hired Yellow Pencil, a local company that specializes in website design and user experience to help us make the site what it is today.
Yellow Pencil has been building digital platforms since 1996. In that time they’ve seen the web open up unprecedented access and dialogue while creating communities across geographies. Yellow Pencil recognizes the need to work actively within their own community to allow the digital tools available to serve a purpose for reconciliation. The Edmonton Public Library provided Yellow Pencil with an opportunity to shape a platform for their indigenous neighbours to connect, remember, and share. Yellow Pencil exists to help government improve at digital work and that includes creating participatory platforms to build a sense of place and belonging. It is Yellow Pencil's hope that EPL’s Indigenous digital space does just that.