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Blackfoot and Cree Revitalization Project team receives Computing Science Diversity Award
By Casey McCarthy
The Blackfoot and Cree Revitalization Project team, led by SFU Indigenous Studies professor Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn, has won the inaugural Computing Science (CS) Diversity Award for developing online tools to teach and preserve endangered Indigenous languages. The team built the interactive online resources, or "chatbots," using artificial intelligence capable of learning and mimicking language patterns. The award was announced by SFU’s School of Computing on March 18, 2022, at a presentation showcasing student work aimed at achieving diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice.
The award-winning "chatbot" team includes principal investigator Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn and co-investigator Dr. Angelica Lim, an assistant professor of professional practice in SFU’s School of Computing Science with expertise in robotics and artificial intelligence. Computing science students Paige Tuttösí, Michelle Cho, Sunayani Sarkar, Gurnoor Chahal, Rachel Lagasse, Danny Yu and Clare Provenzano also received accolades for contributing their coding skills and passion for furthering social causes to the project.
A native speaker of Blackfoot and a member of the Piikani Nation, Dr. Yellowhorn created the project with the vision of using artificial intelligence to engage a new generation in learning Indigenous languages at risk of extinction. Dr. Yellowhorn's enquiries with the School of Computing Science led him to partner with Dr. Lim, who shares his passion for using technology for social good and inclusion, to create the innovative teaching aid. The project is partnering with the Peigan Board of Education, located in Southern Alberta where Dr. Yellowhorn grew up, to teach students using the interactive Blackfoot chatbot.
After successfully launching the Blackfoot chatbot on June 21, 2021 to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day, the team has turned their efforts towards creating a prototype of a chatbot capable of teaching the Cree language. More than 300 students have helped the project by building artificial intelligence “chatbots” as part of their coursework with Dr. Lim.
The Blackfoot revitalization project is funded by a federal government Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant.