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Indigenizing SFU through the “app”lication of culture and history

November 17, 2016
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By Justin Wong

A new Simon Fraser University app showcasing indigenous art pieces on the Burnaby campus gives users a glimpse of the unique worldviews represented by indigenous art. It also creates a stronger awareness of the Coast Salish territories on which SFU is situated.

The app is just one example of how SFU is working to indigenize various aspects of its campuses and curriculums.

Bryan Myles, director of the Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Studies in the Department of First Nations Studies, was charged with developing the app, called ímesh—"to walk" in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh snichim (Squamish language).

Available for Apple iOS mobile devices, the ímesh: Indigenous Art Walk app is a self-guided walking tour that describes the indigenous art pieces on the Burnaby campus and at adjacent Burnaby Mountain Park. The app will also connect Aboriginal students and visitors to the myriad services and initiatives available on campus.

Bryan Myles, director of SFU's Bill Reid Centre, holds up the ímesh: Indigenous Art Walk app.

Users can select and visit art works from a list of available venues, or take a tour using geo-location, which notifies them when they are near one of the artworks. At each venue the user is presented with information regarding the artist, the work and the indigenous worldview that informs each piece.

“The app serves double duty,” says Myles. “Visitors to campus can learn about Aboriginal people and their art, and Aboriginal people can learn about their impact on SFU.”

A Coast Salish Lands Tour is also in production. This tour gives place names in local Coast Salish languages and describes culturally significant landmarks seen from campus. For example, someone viewing the north base of Burnaby Mountain from a specified location would learn that what we today call Barnet Marine Park is known to the Squamish as Lhuḵw’lhuḵw’áyten, or ‘where the bark gets pe[e]led,’ in spring.”

Myles also plans to develop an Android version of the app in the new year.

ímesh is being developed with SFU’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) New Media Lab. The project is made possible by SFU’s Community Engagement Initiative and SFU’s Office for Aboriginal Peoples.

The app is the latest development from the SNF New Media Lab and its spinout company, ReadyLabs Inc. ímesh is based on and inspired by the earlier Amazing Athens City Guide and Jewish Legacy of Hania apps.