Coded Territories: Celebrating indigenous new media

Co-editor Steven Loft, author Archer Pechawis, co-editor Kerry Swanson, and Jason Ryle of ImagiNATIVE celebrate the launch of Coded Territories at Ryerson's Image Centre on October 24. Photo: Emily Joveski

Co-editor Steven Loft, author Archer Pechawis, co-editor Kerry Swanson, and Jason Ryle of ImagiNATIVE celebrate the launch of Coded Territories at Ryerson’s Image Centre on October 24.
Photo: Emily Joveski

There were hugs and happy tears at Ryerson’s Image Centre on Oct. 24 for the launch of a new book of essays by Canadian indigenous new media artists and scholars. Coded Territories: Tracing Indigenous Pathways in New Media Art is the result of a collaboration between Ryerson University and the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.

For the book’s co-editor, Steven Loft, its publication is the culmination of three years of hard work and collaboration with indigenous artists. Loft, who is of Mohawk-Jewish heritage, is also a former recipient of the prestigious National Trudeau Fellowship at Ryerson University. Coded Territories is a product of Loft’s three-year fellowship at Ryerson, which began in 2010.

Featuring essays from six different indigenous artists, the peer-reviewed anthology addresses the critical lack of scholarship about contemporary indigenous art.

“It’s about claiming space,” Loft says. “Indigenous people have been claiming space in cyberspace for a long time now. This book is an attempt to codify that, to put it down in words.”

Loft cites the JUNO Award-winning electronic music group A Tribe Called Red as an example of how indigenous artists are using new technologies and media. “They’re taking this amazing, brand new technology, and taking it to this indigenous space, and inviting everybody in – everybody is welcome.”

Working closely with Loft to make the book a reality was Doina Popescu, the founding director of the Ryerson Image Centre.

“I think it’s a milestone,” says Popescu. “The aboriginal voice is one of the voices that needs to be heard, along with all the others, and I think it’s a milestone in that direction.”

Photo: Emily Joveski

Photo: Emily Joveski

Multimedia artist Jackson 2bears is the author of “My Post-Indian Technological Autobiography,” one of the essays featured in the collection. In his view, the use of new media technologies to tell indigenous stories is a continuation of a history of adaptation for indigenous peoples.

“People from my generation and the generations before us have been exploring all kinds of new technologies as they’ve been available to us, as new ways to tell stories,” says 2bears. “I don’t really see new media as something drastically different from the way our people have been communicating for thousands of years. These are just the new tools that we use to speak through.”

The release of Coded Territories coincides with the 15-year anniversary of the imagineNATIVE Festival. Since 1998, the festival has grown from just a handful of indigenous filmmakers to a five-day long celebration featuring hundreds of indigenous artists working in film, visual art, audio and other new media.

“ImagineNATIVE has had a profound impact on Canada,” says Loft, who has been involved with the festival since its first year. “It’s bringing all these visions, these indigenous ways of looking, to a forum that is accessible, welcoming, fun and sometimes heartbreakingly sad.”

Hard copies of Coded Territories can be found at the Ryerson Image Centre and on Amazon. A free PDF version of the book is available on the University of Calgary Press website.