Jeneen Frei Njootli in 'Unearthed' from Lisa Jackson's Transmissions in 2019. Transmissions Expanded, an online portal, includes background on artwork, Indigenous histories, language statistics, and curated video and audio featuring Indigenous languages in Canada. Photo: Yuula Benivolski

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Transmissions Expanded continues the Indigenous languages conversation

April 09, 2021
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By Tessa Perkins Deneault

How is culture connected to language? How is language connected to our imagination, worldview and the land? In September 2019, coinciding with the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, the premiere of Lisa Jackson’s Transmissions at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts explored these questions with an immersive, Indigenous futurist multimedia installation that allowed participants to experience Indigenous languages and culture via projection, sculpture, sound, shadow and film.

Following the Transmissions exhibition, SFU hosted a symposium on Indigenous languages and media in Canada: "The Roots of Meaning: A Symposium on Lisa Jackson’s Transmissions,” which was organized by School of Communication assistant professor Karrmen Crey and School of Interactive Arts and Technology associate professor Kate Hennessy, brought together local and international experts on Indigenous languages, linguistics, environmental management, media and visual arts, Indigenous futurisms, and the anthropocene.

To continue the dialogue and share symposium recordings and resources with the public, Hennessy and Crey worked with Jackson and producer Lori Lozinski to create Transmissions Expanded, an online portal to educational materials that are a part of the Transmissions installation. The website includes background on the artwork, Indigenous histories, language statistics, and curated video and audio featuring Indigenous languages in Canada. The website allows visitors to dig deeper into both language revitalization efforts and the cross-disciplinary thinking that animates Transmissions. Along with reading lists for classroom use, the wealth of resources on the website illuminates what Indigenous Elders mean when they say “the culture is in the language.”

“Lisa Jackson’s Transmissions was a visionary, immersive expression of the complex relationship between language and culture,” says Hennessy.

Transmissions Expanded goes beyond the installation to provide context and further background on the link between language and place demonstrated in Transmissions. Crey and Hennessy hope that Transmissions Expanded will support understandings that Indigenous languages are expressive of Indigenous worldviews that emerge from relationships to place and territory. Content from the exhibition’s educational “hangout zone” has been incorporated into the website, where visitors can listen to audio clips of Indigenous languages that participants would hear in the installation’s immersive dome. Against a context of colonial violence, the history of Indian Residential Schools, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Transmissions Expanded highlights the creative ways in which Indigenous languages are being activated through community language programs, radio stations, video, and feature films.

Says Crey, “These language revitalization efforts are a part of a broader decolonial movement, and are a testament to the resurgence of Indigenous cultures and communities.”

Aside from providing visitors to Transmissions with further educational materials to deepen their experience and understanding, Transmissions Expanded serves as a unique resource that can be used by anyone who may wish to learn more about Indigenous languages and worldviews.