Research council of Canada

The Space Between Us

He pīriti mai i te Ao Matihiko ki Te Ao Māori. A global indigenous-led project that explores how digital and new media art, created through innovative workshops and symposia, might create new paradigms for indigenous community engagement.

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I am the River, by Johnson Witehira 2022 - shown on digital billboards in Dundas Square, Toronto.

Project Details

This Space Between Us project lies at the forefront of the interactive digital revolution – Indigenous-driven, Indigenous-designed, and Indigenous-led.

Led by an indigenous project team with well-established connections to the broader international Indigenous community, the project aims to enhance critical knowledge in digital and new media and broaden knowledge by integrating Indigenous epistemologies into existing structures.

The project explores how digital and new media art, created through innovative incubator labs, workshops, maker spaces and symposia, might create new paradigms for community engagement extending to remote and rural communities nationally and abroad. The aim is to develop new models for institutions and cities to engage underserved members of marginalised communities, creating new knowledge, advanced training opportunities, capacity building, higher enrollment in education, and Indigenous culture.

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The Space Between Us indigenous leadership team, Top left to right, Dr. Julie Nagam, Dr. Johnson Witehira, Dr. Heather Igloliorte, Stephen Gilchrist, Niki Little, Dr. Brian Martin, Dr. Sanna Valkonen, Dr. Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, Rachael Rakena

Indigenous leadership

Dr. Julie Nagam (Métis), the Project Director and North American Lead, co-leads alongside Pacific lead Dr Johnson Witehira (Ngāti Hinekura, Tamahaki) from IDIA and Circumpolar leader Dr Heather Igloliorte (Inuk, Nunatsiavut) from Concordia University. Working with an extensive group of indigenous research collaborators, The Space Between us team are creating a lasting network extending to remote regions across Canada, the Pacific, and Circumpolar world, enhancing currently underdeveloped connections between these shared historical colonial spaces.

The wider indigenous leadership team, represents all of the regions covered by the project. Members of The Indigenous Leadership Team: Dr. Julie Nagam (The University of Winnipeg), Dr. Heather Igloliorte (Concordia University), Rachael Rakena (Massey University), Dr. Johnson Witehira (APOPO Indigenous CreativeTech Hub), Dr. Sanna Valkonen (University of Lapland), Dr. Brian Martin (Monash University), Dr. Stephen Gilchrist (University of Sydney), Dr. Noelani Goodyear-Ka’ōpua (University of Hawaii at Manoa), and Niki Little (imagineNATIVE).

Recent investment from SSHRC brings the project’s funding to approximately $6 million in cash and in-kind investments from over 40 research collaborators and 31 partner institutions from nine different territories, including Canada, Norway, United States (including Hawaii and Alaska), Australia, Greenland, New Zealand, and Finland.

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My river goes with me, an installation by Julie Nagam and Johnson Witehira, The Dowse, Wellington, 2022

Cross-cultural connections and methodologies

Collaborating across time zones, the research team plans to produce six publications (the first to be released in October 2021, Holding Ground: Nuit Blanche and Other ruptures); exhibitions; nine site-specific incubators; four summer institutes; land-based and creative workshops; symposia; residencies; and a series of virtual programming; all of which is designed to reach beyond academic circles to engage the community and create new outreach opportunities.

The Space Between Us is led by a team steeped in widely accepted Indigenous methodologies, including key principles of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), and Kaupapa Māori framework.

This research is grounded in Indigenous methodologies that include consultation with community experts, collaboration, learning-by-doing, creative intervention, an intergenerational focus, and listening to stories. Indigenous scholar Margaret Kovach (2009) explains the importance of understanding how Indigenous epistemologies and methodologies are fluid, non-linear, intuitive, and relational. She adds that it is important to allow for experience and action to be a part of discourse and practice. This research partnership will apply Indigenous methods following Kovach’s lead as well as the work of Leanne Simpson (2000) and others. It will work from Indigenous theory, knowledge, praxis, and methodologies that rely on orality, performativity, and embodied knowledge. The governance structure of The Space Between Us is built on an Indigenous Leadership Team and situated in widely accepted Indigenous methodologies, key principles of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), and Kaupapa Māori framework.

Building on existing research (Nagam 2011, 2014), as well as the work of Indigenous scholar Peter Cole (2006), it will adopt the metaphor of the canoe as a guiding methodology. The canoe metaphorically and literally transports the audience/participants through place, time, and space to rupture static and lifeless colonial renderings of Indigenous knowledge. The canoe as methodology transmits Indigenous knowledge as both object and embodied practice, merging the archive and the repertoire (Taylor 2003). It builds on existing concepts of Native Space, understood as a network of relationships akin to those traditionally navigated over waterways and across land, which are part of Indigenous connections to and stories of place (Nagam 2011). This work will also be explored through concepts of the waka (Māori canoe/boat) and through scholar Hirini Moko Mead’s knowledge of the Māori meeting house as the foundation of Māori world views.

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The Development

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The Impact