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Michif Centre to become virtual museum

Partnership will take museum worldwide

By: By Ryan Tumilty

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 06:00 am

MUSEUM GOING VIRTUAL -  Retired Senator Thelma Chalifoux is pleased the Michif Cultural and Metis Resource Centre will become a virtual museum that will make the Metis history in Canada available to the world and will help preserve the Michif language.
MUSEUM GOING VIRTUAL - Retired Senator Thelma Chalifoux is pleased the Michif Cultural and Metis Resource Centre will become a virtual museum that will make the Metis history in Canada available to the world and will help preserve the Michif language.
Supplied photo

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St. Albert’s Michif Cultural and Metis Resource centre will soon be taken to the global stage through a new plan to create a virtual copy of the museum online.

The centre is partnering with NAIT and Avatar Media, a company that works out of NAIT’s business incubator in St. Albert, to create the online museum that will allow visitors from around the world to visit the centre without leaving their homes.

Retired Senator Thelma Chalifoux said expanding the centre’s reach is important because it tells a story that has not received nearly enough attention.

“It is Canadian history. We are the best-kept secret in the country. We are talking about Canadian history that nobody knows about.”

She said some Canadian history in other museums attempts to treat Metis history and aboriginal history as a subset, but that misses the point because it is an important component of the country’s past.

“They try to separate the aboriginal history from the Canadian history and you can’t do that because the aboriginal history is Canadian history.”

The plan is for Chalifoux to act as tour guide for the virtual museum and guide visitors through the exhibits they want to see. Avatar is building the website, which they hope to make one of the more advanced sites for a museum. It will incorporate 3-D technology as well as allowing visitors to do a full walk around the centre and its exhibits.

“We realized that we are able, through an online presence, to create a museum that people will be able to go in and explore,” said Jaro Malanowski, the company’s CEO.

Avatar has worked on previous virtual museum projects and Malanowski said he is looking forward to the opportunity to showcase this local story.

Fully developing the site is expected to take several years, but Malanowski said when completed the plan is for the museum to be able to allow visitors to upload artifacts from their own collection that could be added to the virtual museum.

Language preservation

The plan also includes an audio archive of the Michif language. The United Nations considers the language, which has three sub-dialects, endangered. The institute already has audio and video of speakers using the language, but the website hopes to bring it and a dictionary of the language to the Internet.

Chalifoux said the virtual museum is an opportunity for the language to reach all corners of the world.

“Through the website we can talk to people in Russia and all over the world. Technology is wonderful.”

Dr. Klay Dyer, NAIT’s director of applied research and scholarship said the program would bring an important piece of the area’s history to a broader audience.

“What we are really going to do is unleash all the resources available at NAIT to build what is going to be, by the end of it, a really unique and trend-setting virtual museum site.”

He said NAIT is acting as a middleman in the process, bringing together the groups to work on the museum.

“We really brokered the deal, we brought together my knowledge of virtual museums, Avatar’s ability to build those museums and the resources available at the cultural resource institute.”

Right now the funding for the project is coming from the three groups themselves, but Dyer said he is hopeful down the line there will be support from other areas.

“What we try and do at NAIT is not build projects that are based on funding, but to build projects that are based on projects.”

He said the idea of preserving the Michif language online is particularly inspiring to him, because it will provide a permanent record for something that could otherwise be lost.

“To think that it is sitting in our backyard and that many of the native Michif speakers do reside in this region of Canada, it is an opportunity and I think even an obligation to try and capture as much of that language.”


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