indigiTRAILS mobile app immortalizes Indigenous artwork in Calgary parks

Adonai Nicholson, a Mountain Cree from Northern Alberta, explains his art exhibit to park-goers. COURTESY OF URBAN SOCIETY FOR ABORIGINAL YOUTH

Last Generation, an Indigenous art exhibition displayed in Rotary Park will disappear after April. But you won’t have to miss out despite its physical removal. 

The Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY) is using a Pokémon GO-inspired mobile app to ensure art pieces will be available for park-goers, even after the exhibit is replaced.

USAY created Last Generation in partnership with an Indigenous male-identifying youth group. It brings awareness to climate change and demonstrates their view of the future.

“When you go to [Rotary Park], even if the mini-galleries no longer exist, you’ll be able to walk around the park and capture Indigenous artwork,” said LeeAnne Ireland, the executive director of USAY.

The free app, called indigiTRAILS, uses GPS and augmented reality to bring art to life. It has no real carbon footprint other than using a device, Ireland said. Users can follow a trail and walk around the park to discover the installations.

“The art pieces … talk about climate change in a really sort of dark way. It kind of highlights the fact that young people, they don’t have a great or positive view on what the future would look like for our planet.”

“Indigenous youth are historically and currently are sort of stewards of the land, and the fact that … they even called their art exhibit Last Generation, I think it really speaks volumes to the accountability that we all have to making positive change towards climate issues and in our world,” Ireland said.

The app was launched after the discovery of Indigenous children found in mass graves across Canada. Lee said youth in the community were grieving and they wanted to reclaim outdoor spaces. Adding an Indigenous footprint without causing harm to the land sparked the idea.

Amplifying Indigenous voices through art

“When you go to these art exhibits at Last Generation, you can hear the youth’s voice, you can see the artwork come to life with animation,” Ireland said.

“You hear songs by Indigenous artists … It goes from being a passive experience where you’re viewing the art, to an interactive experience where people have to actively engage in the conversation with those art pieces.”

Sandra Neill, a volunteer with the Crescent Heights Community Association, was blown away by USAY’s other trails. She wanted to bring the organization to Rotary Park.

“I think artwork can express something that words can’t, and I think it’s the topic that these Indigenous men chose, it’s a voice that needs to be heard,” she said.

“They have a lot of wisdom and insight to share.”

The Community Association received the Healthy Communities Initiative grant which allows them to run the mini-galleries project until August. New exhibits appear every two months. 

Neill said she loves the fact that these are youth and not professional artists. They have an important voice and providing them with a space to articulate how they’re feeling and thinking is important.

“[Rotary Park] is definitely a popular park, it’s used not only by immediate locals but people come to it … We were hoping [the park] would be a source of people gathering and discussing [art] and maybe just sort of bringing something new,” Neill said.

The Crescent Heights Community Association is able to provide artists with an honorarium from the grant. Neill hopes to receive the grant again to continue the project.

indigiTRAILS brings interactive exhibits across Calgary

Last Generation is the second installation that USAY has created using indigiTRAILS. The first, called Remembering Our Children, is still available in Prince’s Island Park through the app. The next trail will be in Fort Calgary in June, called Treaty Seven Trivia.

“It’s a really cool project where you can see artwork and learn more about Treaty Seven and connect more with information, and test your skills, too,” Ireland said.

Treaty Seven Trivia will focus on anti-racism efforts and understanding how Indigenous people cared for the land, Ireland said. Showcasing the vibrancy and longevity of Indigenous traditions will change the perspective of how people see Indigenous youth, in particular.

The app is available on both the App Store and the Google Play Store. Make sure to enable location services and turn your volume up.

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