Rocky Cree story comes to life in new app

The following story was recently shared on the University of Winnipeg's website.

In 1993, the remains of a 25-year-old Cree woman who lived 350 years ago were discovered by two residents of South Indian Lake in northern Manitoba. The return of this ancestor to the community inspired renowned storyteller William Dumas to re-imagine a week in her life at the age of 13 in the award-winning picture book, Pīsim Finds Her Miskanow, published in 2013.

Now Pīsim gets a fresh lease on life in the first interactive picture book app in a planned series of six picture books and picture book apps to be developed in collaboration with Knowledge Keepers and Elders of the Asiniskaw Ithiniwak (Rocky Cree) communities of northern Manitoba.

The app features Rocky Cree and English voiced narrations of the book, text in English, Cree and syllabics, songs and soundscape, as well as pop-up notes that add cultural, linguistic, and historical contexts to the story, and participatory games such as “pack the canoe” and “gather a bundle” that encourage reflection on Rocky Cree culture.

“The story of Pīsim is a historical fiction, looking back at the past of the Rocky Cree in their places, but the story has always been understood by the research team as a gift to the children of today and tomorrow,” said Dr. Mavis Reimer, who is directing the project. “The app form itself exemplifies our future-directed aspirations.”

The app is one outcome of the Six Seasons of the Asiniskaw Ithiniwak: Reclamation, Regeneration, and Reconciliation research project, a seven-year project funded by a Partnership Grant in the amount of $2.5 million by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) in 2017.

Directed by Reimer, the project aims to support the ongoing, grassroots work of the Asiniskaw Ithiniwak to reclaim their language, culture, and history, by creating a cycle of stories about the Rocky Cree people set during the proto-contact period of the mid-1600s. These stories will appear in both picture book and app forms. Both versions will be grounded in archaeological and historical research and supplemented by teachers’ guides to enhance their use in classroooms. 

Dumas, the storyteller, is the creative heart of the project. In addition to developing the stories, he continues to guide the whole team in the protocols of research with Rocky Cree communities and in becoming culturally competent researchers and educators.

Knowledge Keepers and Elders who work with the Nisichawayasihk Nehetho Culture and Education Authority (NNCEA) in the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) in northern Manitoba translated the story into Cree for the app. Elder Carol Prince from NCN narrates the story in Cree and in English on the app. Tactica Interactive, a Winnipeg company specializing in digital text production, is responsible for the design and technical implementation of the research team’s vision for the app.  

The Six Season app launches on Thursday, October 24, with two events planned for the day.

The Design and Development of the Interactive Pīsim App: The Limits and Affordances of Adapting Picture Books for Mobile Platforms
Naomi Hamer, 
2:30 – 3:45 pm, Centre for Research in Young People’s Texts and Cultures (3C25)

Hamer will highlight some of the research in progress by members of the research team in relation to the app project, as well as situating the Six Seasons project within the broader and theoretical discussions of remediated picture books. She will consider both the possibilities and the limitations of the form for remediating oral stories and land-based practices and knowledges. 

Hamer is an assistant professor in child and youth studies at Ryerson University. She specializes in the cross-media adaptation of children’s literature, with a focus on books, mobile apps, and children’s museums. She is the co-editor of More Words About Pictures: Current Research on Picture Books and Visual/Verbal Texts for Young People (eds. Hamer, Nodelman and Reimer, 2017), and The Routledge Companion of Fairy-tale Cultures and Media (eds. Greenhill, Rudy, Hamer, and Bosc, 2018). Her current research project (Curating the Story Museum) has been awarded a SSHRC Insight Development Grant. 

Official Launch with William Dumas
4:30 pm, Leatherdale Hall
Members of the audience will have an opportunity to interact with the new app and chat with Dumas. 

The Six Seasons of the Asiniskow Ithiniwak: Reclamation, Regeneration, and Reconciliation project is housed in the Centre for Research in Young People’s Texts and Cultures (CRYTC).  In addition to Dumas and Reimer, research teams in the Six Seasons project are led by Kevin Brownlee of The Manitoba Museum, Scott Hamilton of Lakehead University, Warren Cariou of the University of Manitoba, Myra Sitchon of the Nisichawayasihk Nehetho Culture and Education Authority, and Doris Wolf, Roland Bohr, and Linda DeRiviere, all from the University of Winnipeg.

CRYTC supports scholarly inquiry into literary, media, and other cultural texts for children and youth. Directed by Mavis ReimerHeather Snell, and Doris Wolf, the Centre provides a focus for research in the field at the University of Winnipeg, houses the journal Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, facilitates the development and management of collaborative national and international research projects, hosts visiting speakers and researchers, and maintains links with other research centres in children’s studies internationally.