Innovators of the Week: LeeAnne Ireland and Jessica Hawryluk Promote Indigenous Youth in Tech

The IndigiTrails App was conceptualized by participants of the Urban Society of Aboriginal Youth and then designed with Untethered Technologies.

From L-R: LeeAnne Ireland, photo courtesy of LeeAnne Ireland; Jessica Hawryluk, photo by Arthur Leonard.

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LeeAnne Ireland, executive director of Urban Society of Aboriginal Youth (USAY), has always wanted to provide opportunities and programming for Indigenous youth. So has Jessica Hawryluk, managing director of Untethered Technologies. Together, Ireland and Hawryluk have been able to provide a technological opportunity in the form of the AR app, IndigiTrails.

Conceptualized and designed in conjunction with USAY program participants and Untethered Technologies, IndigiTrails is a free, educational app that uses GPS, location services and augmented reality to allow users to participate in activities within Calgary via a downloadable trail map. The aim is to help Calgarians make connections between outdoor spaces and trails and Indigenous culture. Activities in the app include playing trivia games, viewing digital art exhibits and a variety of experiences that show the connections between Indigenous cultures and certain outdoor spaces in the city.

“I think there was a frustration that Indigenous people couldn’t really access technology in the way that we wanted,” says Ireland. “We really wanted to share unique stories in a different way.”

The app was inspired by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, which got Ireland thinking about how Indigenous youth could create programs or experiences that could meet the needs of socialization, storytelling and community. That sparked an idea with USAY participants, who take a very active role in designing everything from the topics to the digital art that appears on IndigiTrails, to create the first trail in the app, Remembering Our Children, a digital art installation based on the experiences of seven Indigenous women who shared their stories of how residential schools affected their lives. That experience is accessed in the app and used on Prince’s Island Park.

Today, IndigiTrails has approximately 12 trails that cover topics ranging from climate change to powwows and understanding regalia.

“The youth are the ones telling the story,” says Hawryluk. “We just help bring their vision to life.”

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