Indigenous students from Cape Breton use animation to bring Mi'kmaw books to life

Elementary and middle school students from First Nations across Cape Breton gathered in Membertou, N.S., for a special project Friday that saw almost 200 students animate books telling Mi’kmaw stories.

With the help of professional animators from cities like Montreal and New York City, five films were animated using stop-motion technology and illustrations by the late Maliseet artist, Dozay Christmas. Also known as Arlene Christmas, she died in November.

The books were originally written for the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources and feature animals important to Mi’kmaw culture.

Student Zophia Nicholas said creating the films was fun, but it was also important to her.

“I really love my culture and I love to learn things about it because our culture is dying and I want to be one of the youth who actually puts in the effort to bring it back to life,” she said.

Daniel Crawford is an animator getting a master’s degree in film at Concordia University in Montreal. He was one of several professional animators who helped out at the event. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Nicholas is a student at East Richmond Education Centre and lives on Chapel Island. She recently created artwork to highlight the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Friday’s event was titled Animation Nation and was held by Digital Mi’kmaq, a non-profit organization that aims to empower Indigenous children to get involved in sciences, technology and the arts.

Tablets were mounted on cardboard boxes to keep them in the same spot and distance from the artwork being used in the films. Frames were created by moving pieces of the illustrations around on a background and photographing each small movement. Some scenes required over a hundred photos.

The films will all be narrated in Mi’kmaq and Maliseet. After that, they’ll be distributed to communities and schools throughout the Maritimes. The hope is it will promote Indigenous languages and get children interested in working with computers.

Alicia Christmas, a student at Membertou Elementary, works on a scene for her video. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Daniel Crawford is an animator studying film at Concordia University in Montreal. He helped students put together the short films. Crawford said he was excited to take part in such a big project.

“As soon as I heard about the opportunity, I was like, ‘Get me there and we’ll make something magical happen,'” he said.


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