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Virtual reality and food security

Two research teams funded to develop community partnerships

August 27, 2014 — 

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has awarded $395,293 in grant funding for two partnership development projects at the University of Manitoba.

Shirley Thompson (Natural Resources Institute) will partner with community organizations to undertake research that will propose solutions to food insecurity and underdevelopment in northern Manitoba Aboriginal communities. Thompson will undertake participatory research with both Frontier School Division staff and community organization at O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation (OPCN) and Leaf Rapids, as well as Manitoba Agriculture and Food Rural Development.

The team will document the impact and build the capacity of two programs, namely:

  1. Ithinto Mechisowin (Food from the Land) at OPCN, which incorporates a country food sharing program, youth outdoor harvesting education, and a commercial fishing cooperative.
  2. Grow North and the Boreal Garden Project, a regional food-based youth training and education program based in Leaf Rapids.

“The goal of this research is to improve food security, food sovereignty and sustainable livelihood assets in northern Manitoba by building capacity for food-based community development and negotiating a greater role for First Nation communities in natural resource management of their food and water shed,” says Thompson.

Andrew Woolford (sociology), along with Adam Muller and Struan Sinclair (English, film and theatre), will be leading the Embodying Empathy project, which will use leading-edge technologies to create a prototype virtual Indian Residential School (IRS) in partnership with Survivors, Indigenous commemorative and educational agencies, archivists, scholars and technology experts. Very few residential schools remain standing to serve as venues of knowledge transmission. The project will explore whether virtual-reality technologies can allow audiences to be brought closer to the diversity of experiences engendered by forced assimilation. The project will be undertaken with partners Shingwaulk Residential School Centre, Legacy of Hope Foundation, Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art, and the National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (located at the U of M).

“Our virtual IRS will be designed through dialogue with representatives from these organizations, as well as Elders, residential school Survivors, and intergenerational Survivors,” says Woolford. “This reality will be shaped by their experiences with public education around residential schools, reflect the goals of these organizations to increase knowledge and remembrance of residential schools, and BE presented in a respectful manner, with significant Survivor oversight and control to ensure that the project is accessible to diverse communities.”

The participatory design dialogues, as well as the design and build for the virtual IRS will be informed by industry partners Electric Monk Media and Tactica Interactive. Carleton University will be partnering and developing a virtual IRS map, which will incorporate access to the virtual IRS , and the project’s other university partner is the University of Guelph.

“I congratulate these research leaders who are endeavouring to find innovative approaches to solving problems with input from community partners who will inform and enrich the eventual outcomes,” says Digvir Jayas, vice-president (research and international) at the University of Manitoba. “By working together, much can be achieved.”

The purpose of the Partnership Development Grant program is to develop new partnerships for research and related activities that include knowledge mobilization, design and testing of new partnership approaches that may result in best practices or models that can be adapted and used by others at the regional, national or international level. The funding is awarded over three years, beginning in 2014.

SSHRC is the federal agency that promotes and supports postsecondary research and training in the humanities and social sciences.

For more detailed information on these two projects, please contact:

Shirley Thompson, at: 204-474-7170, or email: s [dot] thompson [at] umanitoba [dot] ca
Andrew Woolford, at: 204-474-6058, or email: andrew [dot] woolford [at] umanitoba [dot] ca

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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