First Impressions

Travelling North has been on our bucket list, and going up North to leave a positive impact has already been such an incredible experience. Our project began at a high school design competition, and the winners got the INSPIRE program to implement their ideas.

In September 2023, Isla, Preet, Val, and I got straight to work trying to connect with local Indigenous Bands. We were not able to make good connections to build the original idea, as we wanted to co-design with the communities. Luckily, Dana, with her many connections, got us in touch with Michele Tomasino from Tuktoyaktuk, a remote Indigenous community in the Canadian Arctic. Michele is a superstar person, teacher, and Vice Principal of the Mangilaluk School. She and Dana got us in contact with four students, Darryl, Chase, Sophie, and Miley, who were interested in the project and in working with us. We have now travelled all the way up with our new team, which includes Tom, to the Arctic to meet in person the friends we made in the fall!

We have been organizing how we can continue the co-design process with the four and get more students involved. Meeting all the students that we worked with last September has been full of laughs and joy. The first “night” in Tuktoyaktuk was like a Christmas story with a light flurry of snow, snow angels, and a snowball fight, after which we warmed up by the wood stove fire and worked on a puzzle. Of course, when we met with the boys, Val had to squat Chase to save herself from being a target of a tickle fight! Meanwhile, Tom had to wrestle his way to safety! “Luckily” I (Jon) was saved because I was feeling quite sick, though it’s hard to feel bad when such great energy is around! Meeting Miley, Sophie, Chase, and Darryl in their hometown felt just like when my family came home for Christmas—helped by the chilly and snowy weather. The 24-hour daylight was a treat for us and did not disturb our sleep as we thought it would. It was disorienting to tell time though.

Back to work with design, we met with all the teachers to find out how they would like to work with us. It was incredibly motivating to see how much the teachers were willing to work with us, instantly giving us a backlog of features. I guess if you moved to a remote community in the Arctic, you must be passionate about growing the community. However, it must be mentioned how strong the sense of community is; if someone doesn’t know someone, they try to find a connection through either family or friends. It’s no surprise that the community is bonded together so tightly. For us to travel here, we took a boat, four flights, and a two-hour truck ride. We even got delayed by a day because the snowmelt washed the road away. It’s incredible to witness the strength that the community has, with each member wanting to see it succeed and rebound from the effects of colonization and residential schools. They will succeed with or without our help; you have to be hardy to live in such a place. It’s unbelievable to be a part of such a much larger movement.

Where the Project Is Currently

Our educational app is evolving with a much more focused and clear path now that we had very productive meetings with the kids in school and the teachers. We have been given a wishlist of things from the teachers to begin designing the version of the tool we will deploy in classes in September. In the next couple of days, we are going to focus on finding the best way to work together when our Victoria team goes home. As well as learning how our Tuk team ambassadors (the original youth and a few more students) plan on helping with recording the voices to aid with pronunciation. They will also help with engaging their classmates to grow support and help us with growing our community partners. We have been holding design workshops with the ambassadors, working through ideas and ideating. Working in the high school shop classroom, the UVIC team has been learning as we go with interviewing, design, and implementation. It helps that we have a professor who teaches design! However, lectures and assignments in university can only prepare you for so much. The work ahead is going to be some of the most difficult we’ve done, but we are ready for the challenge!

 Welcoming Community

I want to share another story about our experience getting up north when we got stuck because of a washed-out road. If that’s not a slap in the face of how we are at the mercy of the environment out here, I don’t know what is. Talking to the people that live here who aren’t the ones that invited us, we heard about how difficult living up here can be. They are stressed about climate change and work because the land is their livelihood. When we got stuck in Inuvik, we got to spend an extra day with Chase. We had nowhere to go so we went to the Cultural Center, and two very welcoming people showed us the art they had in the building. We ended up making 3D models of the art for their website. They gave us more resources and shared their experiences with residential schools. They wanted us to watch a movie with them, Indian Horse, a heavy film about residential schools. One of my takeaways was how the community speaks about people dealing with substance abuse. There is a large understanding of why and a collective goal to heal as a community, which was really heartwarming to see. On our last day there we got to watch the Inuvialuit Day celebrations; there was a drum dance performance which only ended once everyone got off their seats and joined in! It was wonderful to watch as they had every generation up there performing for the town. Working on this project, we have met many incredibly strong individuals and inspiring people. Ultimately, we hope that we breathe more energy into it.

How We Are Going to Continue Working

As we have been planning our continued collaboration, we are planning over the summer to work in close contact with weekly FaceTime meetings with Miley, Sophie, Chase, and Darryl, and hopefully the two new members. We will be showing them our progress as we go, and they will show us their hi-fi prototypes with Figma, interviewing elders, and helping with additional content. Additionally, we will be having weekly meetings with several teachers, including two Inuvialuktun teachers to showcase our prototypes that involve their wishlist. We will be intently listening to their feedback and revising based on it. With each sprint iteration, we hope to bring in a new feature to show off!

 Can’t wait to see where we end up next in this ever-changing and ever-growing project. Our hearts are so full <3