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News Articles - Aboriginal students master web in pilot program

Aboriginal students master web in pilot program
Edmonton Journal, November 22, 2004
By Archie McLean

(Copyright The Edmonton Journal 2004)

As a traditional Metis dancer since she was eight, Shelley Collins knows a great deal about the old ways of her people.

Now she’s learning new ways of sharing that knowledge.

Collins, 23, is one of 12 aboriginal students studying web design, photography and animation in an intensive 50-week program at the Heritage Community Foundation, a local non-profit group which promotes provincial and Canadian heritage. The program includes hands-on work with industry professionals and the more theoretical work required in an academic program.

“It’s really cool to be part of a pilot program,” Collins said. “I’ve learned so much already.”

The students, chosen from 87 applicants across the province, will receive three NAIT certificates for their work—in web development and design, database development and design, and animation applied application.

The idea, said Terrance Armstrong, the program’s director, is to fill an existing need for highly skilled aboriginal workers. And according to those involved, the project has been a success. Armstrong attributes that to the students.

"They’re natural artists,” he said. “They all have incredible talents that they bring to the medium.”

“I’m just honoured to work with them—they’re phenomenal,” agreed Karen Hovelkamp, the program co-ordinator.

Those talents will help the students as they prepare for the next part of the program. So far, they’ve been burnishing their skills and entering information into databases. Soon, though, they’ll be producing real websites with real content.

One project is an Elders Voices website that will feature the stories and insights of aboriginal elders from across Alberta. It will be a multimedia site with audio, video, photos, graphics and text.

Taking history and putting it in a 21 st century package is part of the foundation’s mandate. It’s something Armstrong, who is Metis, is particularly passionate about.

Armstrong said aboriginal people have failed to communicate the positive aspects of their culture to the greater community. But with the Internet, that could change.

Aboriginal culture, which is steeped in visual art and engaging storytelling, is “custom designed” for an interactive medium like the web, he said.

“Aboriginal culture and the Internet is a marriage that could change Canada, maybe even the world,” Armstrong said.

All of this is a part of a larger strategy for the foundation. Executive director Adriana Davies is committed to bringing Alberta and Canadian history to life through the internet.

The foundation is involved already in the Alberta Online Encyclopedia, a massive project which will feature multimedia, fully searchable content. They’ve completed websites on coal mining in Western Canada (www.coalking.ca), Alberta’s “Famous Five” women (www.abheritage.ca/famous5) and many others (www.albertasource.ca).

“If we’re really talking about getting heritage into the mainstream, then this is the way to go,” Davies said. “Imagine, every Albertan, every Canadian having this information at their fingertips.”

It’s a vision Shelly Collins shares, especially since she has a six-year-old daughter who is just beginning to dance.

“I’m really proud of her and I want her to be proud of me,” she said.

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