Brentwood Bay students tell traditional tales through computer programming

It’s a story of the Saanich people Andy Smith-Harry has known for years.

A teacher told him the tale of a lady named Ciye, who is picking blueberries when the creator turns her into a blue jay. For the past few months, the LÁU,WELNEW Tribal School student has worked to animate the story using 3D software called Alice.

“It was a lot of work,” said Smith-Harry, adding it’s a good way to teach the beliefs of the different stories.

His project is part of a program launched by Camosun College called ANCEStor, which aims to engage aboriginal youth in computer programming through traditional storytelling.

In July, Camosun received a federal grant of $54,000 to develop the program over three years. A graduate from the computer science department worked alongside participating students to help build their programs, and build a library of cultural images and sounds for the students to draw from.

On Tuesday, Smith-Harry and five other students in Grades 7 to 10 presented their minute-long stories and video games at Camosun’s Interurban campus.

“This is such a great day for us because you are the first group that has done this program,” said Dianne Biin, from Camosun’s school of business and indigenous faculty. “When we first started this, we had no idea what to expect. We knew that animation was fun, but I’m really happy to have you here because these are such great stories.”

Starting with a template, Smith-Harry selected bushes and trees to set the scene in his video, along with a man, woman and several birds. He then created text bubbles to narrate the story and present the characters’ dialogue. He recorded his own voice to add sound.

The end goal of ANCEStor is to build a standalone educational package — complete with software, training materials and lesson plans — to take to remote communities, said Marla Weston, an instructor of computer science at the college.

Speaking to the students in attendance, she encouraged them to consider a career in the field.

“If you’re looking around and thinking, ‘This might be an interesting job,’ come and visit us,” she said.

rholmen@vicnews.com