By Brett McKay
A program that merges technology and traditional teachings has come to Edmonton to give Indigenous young adults digital skills and deeper connections to their communities.
The Indigenous Friends Association started delivering its INDIGital program at PÎYÊSÎW WÂSKÂHIKAN (Thunderbird House) at the Stanley A. Milner Library on May 9. The four-week program is introducing a full class of students to the languages and logic of coding alongside ceremony, local history, and traditional knowledge. The aim of the program, delivered in person for the first time since the pandemic, is to help participants "heal through technology."
"We start through cultural teachings and through grounding our participants in where they live, what the teachings in the area are, but also that we've always been people who have technology," said Danielle Paradis, a Métis writer and educator who is the program manager for INDIGital.
"A lot of us are envisioned as people in the past. When you think of Indigenous people, often we're portrayed like people who existed a long time ago. But we teach our students we're here, here are technologies that we've used."
The Indigenous Friends Association is a Toronto-based non-profit that hosts events throughout the country and online. The Edmonton Public Library's gift of free rental space and the use of its robots helped bring the INDIGital program here.
Indigenous coders are in high demand, Paradis said, and INDIGital has plans to expand its program to include mentorships and certification beyond what is offered in this introductory course. Currently, students graduate by producing a final project such as a webpage, a language app, a digital story, or an online shop.
Students leave INDIGital better prepared for the tech job market, and they also walk away with a deeper sense of community belonging, educator McKenzie Toulouse explained.
"We're giving them all those tools that are going to get them to be more connected to their identity, to embrace their culture, to build that sense of community and support systems within their own social networking," Toulouse told Taproot.