Digital equity and community control project launched in Northern Ontario

NORTHERN ONTARIO – Indigenous Culture and Media Innovation (ICMI) and the Media Arts Network of Ontario (MANO) have announced the launch of a collaborative community-based project in Northern Ontario.

While each organization is managing distinct research projects, work in the region and a shared interest in digital media brought the organizations together to collaborate. “Originally conceived as a series of workshops and consultations connecting regional and local needs, the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged us to decentralize the process,” a release notes. MANO and ICMI have recruited paid facilitators and advisors to carry out conversations within their communities and networks to discuss needs and strategies for digital tools and infrastructure.

Sophie Edwards, Manitoulin Island project co-ordinator (along with Sam Cuddy), told the Recorder, “the two organizations have collaborated and are hosting conversations across Northern Ontario. Facilitators have been hired across the North, including Jacki Atkins of Weengushk Film Institute (which is also an advisor and collaborating organization) in M’Chigeeng First Nation, and hosting conversations with all participating artists and multi-media artists.”

“We are talking about what their challenges are from the creation of their art to completion, and how others find out about their work, for example,” said Ms. Edwards. “We are looking at capacity building, common themes and processes, then putting this all together and moving forward from there.”  

“Across the board, we want to know how, for example, artists define themselves and their work, challenges they face, what their approach is, and strategies for getting their work recognized,” said Ms. Edwards.   

ICMI was created out of a recognized need for Indigenous access to the arts. ICMI opens its doors to the Indigenous community through professional development, projects, productions, facilities and equipment. MANO, a representative of artist-run collectives and organizations across Ontario, works to support co-operative ownership of the tools for artistic production, exhibition and distribution by communities.

Both organizations are committed to the vital role of community control and ownership in the research and development of digital resources for artists in Northern Ontario. “We centre equity and collective responsibility in the development of digital tools and platforms for the arts in Northern Ontario. This project counters the pervasiveness of resource extraction in the North (from natural resources to cultural knowledge). This project follows the principle of community ownership, control, access and possession (OCAP) of all information, ideals and knowledge shared throughout the project,” the release continues.

Each facilitator determines all aspects of their research and conversations, including the communities and networks they engage, the participants they invite, the format, process and length of their conversations. Together, the participants and facilitators determine what information is shared with MANO and ICMI, and how it will be used. Both organizations are working closely together with the facilitators to develop protocols for use and access of the research and how it will be stored for the long term.

ICMI and MANO have collaborated closely to develop the process of the project and to support the facilitators through mentorship, facilitator training, administrative and other supports. An important aspect of the project is to build respectful and meaningful co-mentoring relationships and networks between the facilitators, and to build in facilitation skills and capacity.

“The conversations will continue until mid-spring and maybe longer than that,” said Ms. Edwards. On Manitoulin she, along with Ms. Atkins, will be co-facilitating conversation circles. 

In addition to the shared ICMI/MANO conversations, ICMI will also reach out to Indigenous communities for additional Indigenous-only discussions about how Indigenous people adopt digital technologies and utilize spoken word, symbols, songs and images to capture, preserve and transmit culture, language and ancestral knowledge; and discuss what is needed to create multi-media resources and share cultural materials and what resources can help.

For more information, please call MANO at (647) 951-4810 ext. 102, or ICMI at (866) 529-0260.

The project is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts—Digital Strategy Fund.