Every 14 days, a language dies.
Last summer, a close friend of ours worked in Montana on the Flathead reservation trying to revitalize languages through board games. The board games were useful, but could not engage students in a way where they provided an immersive experience rather than a memorized one.
That immersion is unbelievably critical as the language is tied to the land - especially for languages that are dormant, such as Salish, or moribund. It is also incredibly important for modern native american sovereignty movements.
CulturED aims to share culture through virtual reality.
It creates the immersive experience that’s lacking in both traditional cultural and language education. By using VR to display locations in native american oral histories, students can “visit” relevant locations and learn the culture and vocabulary surrounding these locations in little to no time or cost, especially since we are using low cost VR technology such as the Google Cardboard.
During this hackathon we targeted Bitterroot Salish, a language that has under 1,000 living speakers.
What it does
culturED uses virtual reality to allow users to interact with locations that are relevant to oral histories of various groups, and learn their cultures and languages through this interaction.
Using webVR, we are able to represent a significant cultural location in the form of the Madison Buffalo Jump and describe some of the histories and vocabularies of the buffalo jump. This location was used by numerous tribes including the Hidatsa, Shoshone, Lakota, Dakota, Nez Perce, Bannock, Arapaho, Salish, Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Crow, Gros Ventres, Cree and Assiniboine and is included in the oral histories of many of those.
This means that our location is easily extendable to be applicable to the languages of these respective tribes. This technology is also easily applicable to other languages and locations.
How we built it
culturED is built using webVR and angular in the frontend. Our 3D images were graciously provided by Michael Running Wolf. The recordings of Salish were part of a textbook series created by the Salish & Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, Salish Kootenai College, and The Salish Institute Nk̓ʷusm, with specific language help provided by Ana Alonso.
Challenges we ran into
Finding recorded vocabulary on a limited set of recordings was fairly difficult. We hope to expand this vocabulary by directly working with groups such as the Salish Kootenai College in the future. Also, since none of our team mates had learned WebVR in the past, it was difficult to get it up and running.
What's next for culturED
The Madison Buffalo Jump is included in many native american oral histories, so using the current scenes with different languages is possible in the future. Also, as other locations are added, this case study provides a strong basis for anything from classroom learning technologies to expansive language protection.
Special thanks again to Michael Running Wolf for the images, Ana Alonso, and the Salish & Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, Salish Kootenai College, and The Salish Institute Nk̓ʷusm.