Prairie Post (West Edition)

Battle of the Belly River examined through virtual reality lens

- BY RY CLARKE

Kris Hodgson-Bright displays a 3D replica of an Indigenous club Oct. 25 at For Whoop-Up, an artifact that will be used in filming for the Battle of the Belly River Virtual Experience.

Lethbridge College is working with community partnershi­ps to bring Indigenous voices forward in the retelling of the Battle of the Belly River back in 1870.

Working with the City of Lethbridge’s Reconcilia­tion Advisory Committee, Galt Museum and Archives, and the Lethbridge Historical Society, the applied research project will focus on Indigenous immersive storytelli­ng through VR.

On Tuesday, students from the college met with Blackfoot Elders at Fort Whoop-Up to begin the project with stories of the Battle of the Belly River. In the past the stories have been retold in 1966, 1997, and 2020, but from a colonial perspectiv­e.

“This is a year long project the we have been working on since July,” said Kris Hodgson-Bright, faculty instructor with Digital Communicat­ions and Multimedia Production at the College. “We really wanted to focus on how we could improve the knowledge of Blackfoot history, culture, and language across campus,” said Hodgson-Bright.

“A lot of stories over time have been told from a settler/colonial perspectiv­e. We really wanted to have Indigenous voices heard.”

The Battle of the Belly River was one of the last major conflicts between the Blackfoot Confederac­y and the Cree nation. Taking place on the banks of what is now known as the Oldman River, a Cree war party came to the area in late October 1870 and engaged in battle with a Peigan camp.

“They thought they were approachin­g just a small group and didn’t realize that there were many clans from Kainai and Piikani,” said Camina Weasel Moccasin, Indigenous curator with the Galt. “It was one of the first times that the repeating rifle had come to the Blackfoot people. That was one thing that the Cree did not realize that we had. That really helped with the victory.”

The virtual reality experience is hoped to be available to the public in the fall of 2023.

“I received funding for an Applied Research Project at the Lethbridge College,” said Hodgson-Bright. “I have hired three graduates of the Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality certificat­e program, as well as a Multimedia Program student. What they will be doing is building this oral storytelli­ng and we are going to turn it into a virtual reality experience.”

Hoping to tell a story that is part of Lethbridge’s history, the project will work with authentici­ty, using the knowledge of Indigenous Elders and peoples to help shape the narrative for all to enjoy.

“Our intention is to get our students to learn on the land,” said Weasel Moccasin. “We are going to have them sit in the tipi and hear elder accounts of the day of the battle. Afterwards we are going to do a bit of walking throughout the river bottom and see what type of organic conversati­ons come from that.”

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