Lights, Camera, Inclusion S2E2: Loretta Todd, Doreen Manuel and Cease Wyss

The trio of Indigenous matriarchs discusses the natural fit between immersive tech and Indigenous storytelling, the parallels between nature and technology, and lifelong training. 

In this episode, we learn about the special connection between virtual reality and Indigenous creativity thanks to Loretta Todd, a seasoned filmmaker who created the IM4 Lab (Indigenous Matriarchs 4 Lab), which provides micro-credits in immersive learning to Indigenous creators. We’ll be joined later by two other Indigenous matriarchs, first by filmmaker and educator Doreen Manuel, then by multimedia artist and ethnobotanist, Cease Wyss.

“There are multiple origin stories for the IM4 Lab”, says its creative director Loretta Todd, who founded the program, offered online with in-person lessons at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, just over a year ago. Common to all the origin stories though, is Loretta Todd’s firm belief in the power of building community and making training, including cutting-edge technology training, accessible to anyone who is interested. 

She also did not want to see history repeat itself: “When I got out of film school, I was told: "Oh, well, you need more training." [...] I've been making films or making series, and I've been hiring Native crew, 75%, even 100% Native crew, even though the industry is saying: "Oh, no, you guys aren't there. You need more training. You're not ready." I didn't want that to happen with these new technologies.” With the IM4 Lab, she’s making sure that Indigenous creators are here from the start, and that the technologies are free and inclusive. 

When it came to the governance of the organization, Todd immediately thought of the culturally crucial importance of working as a collective, “in a circle”. To that end, she reached out to three Indigenous matriarchs, creators, and media veterans: Doreen Manuel, Cease Wyss and Tracey Kim Bonneau. “As media makers, as storytellers, there's so much each one of them have done for their communities and for the Indigenous media community [...] also because I knew that they're so brilliant, they've been doing similar work themselves, that they would be good guides.”

Doreen Manuel is equally inspired by Loretta Todd, who she describes as a “visionary”. One of the greatest assets of virtual technology, according to Manuel, is that they allow stories to be told in multiple dimensions, making it a perfect fit for Indigenous storytelling, which is not “limited to three dimensions”, but also includes the spirit world, “that can't really be captured wholly in film [...] So when we're looking at AI and virtual reality, those are mediums where you can start incorporating the trueness of our story.”

The parallels between Indigenous cultures, ways of living, stories and modern technology do not stop there. Multimedia artist and ethnobotanist Cease Wyss believes that the way that plants, soil, seeds and all the things that are creating “air and food systems and medicines for us” interconnect and work together is very similar to “the way we process data and store it.” 

Making that connection is crucial for Indigenous youth in particular, believes Loretta Todd. That way, technology might not solely be perceived by them as a “white, western guy thing”, but rather as "the way the Earth expresses itself. We could adapt that and make those technologies serve the same purpose in our lives as well.” 

Gaëlle Essoo
Gaëlle Essoo works for the Canada Media Fund as the Lead Editor for the Now & Next editorial platform, and as the French market liaison for the organization's Growth & Inclusion team. Prior to joining the CMF, she worked as a producer for international news channel France 24 where she focused on programs dedicated to women’s rights across the world. She also worked as a press counselor for the Embassy of France in Canada.
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