New program offered in Edmonton connects coding to traditional Indigenous knowledge

·3 min read
Indigenous youth learn program languages during an INDIGital program class. (Danielle Paradis/Indigenous Friends Association - image credit)
Indigenous youth learn program languages during an INDIGital program class. (Danielle Paradis/Indigenous Friends Association - image credit)

Traditional knowledge is meeting up with technology and coding in an innovative program recently introduced to Edmonton's Indigenous youth.

The INDIGital program is a four-week course created by the Indigenous Friends Association, a not-for-profit organization. The program's goals are to teach digital literacy to Indigenous youth while connecting technologies with Indigenous knowledge.

"It is meant to be an empowering class," said Danielle Paradis, program manager for INDIGital.

Previously offered in Saskatchewan and Ontario, the program held its first session at the Edmonton Public Library, starting on May 9 and ending in early June.

INDIGital offers students a chance to learn about coding, build their own websites and design digital content, all while learning about Indigenous history and teachings.

Paradis said the program helps youth understand how technologies have existed within the worldview of Indigenous communities.

"A lot of times Indigenous people are portrayed as people who've existed in the past, not people who are real and present," Paradis said.

"A lot of this program focuses on understanding that Indigenous people have always had technology."

She said they also explore where the current technological landscape is lacking when it comes to Indigenous people.

Activists and privacy watchdogs have talked about how facial recognition software and other AI disproportionately target Black and Indigenous communities.

Paradis said it's important that people from those communities learn to participate and create, to make technologies work for them.

Danielle Paradis/Indigenous Friends Association
Danielle Paradis/Indigenous Friends Association

Serenity Jacko, a student in the program, learned about it through Facebook.

She liked the idea of learning to code — not only so technologies she already used made more sense, but to have an extra skill that would prove useful on a resumé.

Previously, she said, she felt "completely lost" when someone was bringing up coding language.

"I don't want to feel like that," she said. "It would be nice to at least have an idea."

Jacko and other students learned programming languages, how to design a website, and were introduced to beading. They also learned how to move robots within a fixed pattern using code.

Paradis said the workshop was created in part to help improve Indigenous people's relationship with technology.

"A lot of times Indigenous people, if they're growing up, say rural or remote areas, they're often taught that technology is not a good thing," she said.

Even though technology plays an important role in these communities — " Facebook groups are huge on reserves… and that's where, especially during COVID, everybody was gathering and getting information" — she said a lot of communities are apprehensive about tech.

Programs like INDIGital are important, she said, because they can teach how technology can be useful for these communities and also how to use it safely and effectively.

The INDIGital workshop has run in other parts of Canada. The Edmonton program was a first. Paradis said the hope is to run another workshop in the city next year.

"We do want to be a multi-year presence in Edmonton. I think we have a very vibrant Indigenous community," she said.

People interested in attending the workshops can do so on the Indigenous Friends Association website. Paradis said there is a waiting list but once workshops come up they will reach out to individuals to see what works.

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