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HoloLens Applications: Telling Indigenous Stories with Virtual Reality

November 30, 2016 Melanie Bahti

Over the past few months, the ETS team has been brainstorming educational applications of virtual and mixed reality devices like the HoloLens. We’ve been collecting great ideas from participants in our workshops – everything from visualizations of cell biology to exploring a Roman marketplace to using virtual reality to see internal structures of a building in an architecture class. This post highlights a series of examples of virtual reality technology being used to convey Indigenous stories, histories, and experiences. They raise exciting possibilities for VR as a tool for preservation, teaching, and capturing information in its spatial context. Many of these examples are drawn from Elizabeth LaPensée’s Twitter feed (@odaminowin) – Dr. LaPensée is an Anishinaabe, Métis, and Irish scholar and game developer who is currently an assistant professor in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University.

360° Video

A bridge between traditional video and virtual reality, 360° video can be experienced on a variety of devices with varying levels of immersiveness. Whether on a computer screen, a smartphone, or a VR headset, these videos bring the viewer fully into a visual and auditory space and allow them to control their perspective.


Collisions from Nicole Newnham on Vimeo. The film Collisions tells Nyarri Morgan’s story of witnessing a nuclear bomb test in the Australian bush as a young man. For more information about the film, visit the film’s website check out this making-of video"Collisions" with Dolby Atmos and Jaunt VR from Michael Coleman on Vimeo.

and these news pieces about the film:

Highway of Tears

The virtual reality film Highway of Tears by Anishinaabe filmmaker Lisa Jackson is a documentary about Ramona Wilson, a young woman who went missing along British Columbia’s Highway 16, a highway where over 40 Indigenous women have disappeared since the 1970s. For more information about the film, check out this making-of video.

Information about the best way to view the video on various devices is available on CBC’s The Current’s webpage.


The Poi360 project is an interactive documentary home for the Māori performance art poi. It includes 360° video of poi performance, a documentary, and a growing collection of stories and interviews about the history of poi and its practice and evolution today. Watch the documentary and learn more about the project on the POI360 website.


Our team has been enjoying the expanding range of games available for the HoloLens, and virtual reality games are popular across devices. The examples below show how virtual reality can bring dynamic and playful exploration to new audiences across time and space.

Cree Syllabics Virtual Reality

The Cree Syllabics Virtual Reality project has brought a 3D language-learning game to three Cree communities in James Bay, Canada. See this news article from CBC News for more about the project and the game. You can see a video of some Cree children experiencing the game on Schoolû's Facebook page.

Future Possibilities

The only #VR idea I've sketched follows #Anishinaabe constellations & stories that we see not just the stars but the plasma between them.

— Elizabeth LaPensée (@odaminowin) October 20, 2016

Situated Knowledge

As we’ve played with the HoloLens, we’ve experimented with tools for exploring other spaces and times like Galaxy Explorer and Land of Dinosaurs. We’ve also discussed different ways that the virtual reality could give us information about our surroundings beyond what’s visible in our own reality.

#VR for virtual field trips into traditional territories as they were before colonization to pass on land teachings. #indigenous #mplay — Elizabeth LaPensée (@odaminowin) October 20, 2016

The tools for showing new information about a space through virtual reality devices are still developing, but we’re excited about the possibilities! One day perhaps we’ll have mixed reality tours of Bryn Mawr that contextualize our location on Lenape land or build off of the popular Black at Bryn Mawr project. Further reading for those interested:

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