Monday, October 4, 2010

Virtual Native Lands: A Great Place to Visit and Learn

Are you Native American looking for a place to go in SL? Are you anyone else looking to learn about Native Americans? I mean really, not the inaccurate myths or romanticized versions of history, but the real deal? Well Second Life has just the place! Virtual Native Lands are a group of sims that represents its own non-profit organization. In fact, Virtual Native Lands exist because Nany Kayo’s project won an award from Linden Labs.

Nany Kayo of Virtual Native Lands

Ms. Kayo is a Cherokee citizen who happened to work with software in a high tech industry. She came into Second Life see what her employer was doing. Turns out, she loved it, thought it was fun, bought land, and had an idea to meet other Cherokees. One thing led to another, until she discovered the need for a project like this! A contest for good ideas, sponsored by Linden Labs, attracted her, and she wrote up the project. The proposal was one of 3 winners, another being Virtual Ability, and she got a few hundred dollars, and land for a few months to see what they could. That is how Virtual Native Lands got a full sim finally. So Second Life’s own Virtual Native Lands are indeed a non-profit based completely on work in Second Life.
Talking to Nany in Florida

I went over to Virtual Native Lands to explore. I arrived in Florida! The main landing point is situated in the Southeastern United States, although the now five sims cover the United States, Canada, and Mesoamerica. Philosophically speaking, Nany says the project does not have a linear path, and in a way that makes sense. You can wander about through the loosely ordered structure of Virtual Native Lands in a way that reflects a native view of things. Not so linear. Wandering the sims is in parallel process with Native thinking. About time for instance, what modern Americans consider the far future or past are not so far in the past or future to tribal peoples. Everything is more here and now. The ancestors are very real and present to Nany, and most Native Americans. In fact, the actual production of a representation of the land reflects this. It is symbolic. Face it, the size of avatars to land on a sim make it a requirement that things be out of scale, in a project this big. On the notecard about Virtual Native Lands, it says:
"The regions are not all geographically oriented and are not to scale.  Entire
 mountain ranges are represent by a single mountain,  river systems are
hinted at, and some regions extend around corners ending up adjacent to
areas that are far distant in real world geography.  As with all
representations in Second Life, idea is to tell the best story possible with
available resources."
 And this quality truly represents the cultures of Native Americans. The scale of time is very long to Native peoples. There is a sense of great depth of history, not just the individual, but that one is part of a much larger, and older existence. This is a cultural trait, to not feel so individual or separate, more collectivist in everyway. You really get a feel for this on the sims too.
The sims of Virtual Native Land

So after arriving in Florida, I took a tour on a feather that flew me from the Southeast all the way to the Artic. I flew past my own RL neck of the woods, the Pacific Northwest rain, totem poles and all, and back down through the Southwest, and finally the pyramids of Mexico! Lots of fun. I highly recommend you take a friend on this tour, two to a feather you know!
Read all about it

When I talked to Nany Kayo about Virtual Native Lands, she had just come back from a meeting of Non-profit Commons, a collection of 80 non-profit organizations in Second Life, and boy was she excited about the collaborative nature of the work everyone is doing. But Kayo’s big news is about working with The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), one of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection of museums. Kayo said, “Virtual Native Lands is a solution provider and is assisting with a program co-sponsored by the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian.” This would involve a contract using collections from the museum rendered in 3D exhibits, interactive content, designed by the NMAI. The Virtual Native Lands team will create the content, scripting, machinima, native plants, and everything else under their direction. Exciting news indeed!
Now it is official Nany got the contract

Meanwhile, Nany and the team at Virtual Native Lands are already providing educators with authentic and helpful information for RL and virtual projects. Nany gives tours to educators regularly. Does your group want a tour? IM Nany Kayo! One project involved a group of middle and high school teachers who wanted to build and interactive exhibit about a Native American tribe as an educational forum. Nany was able to have an Apache tribal member of her organization consult with them. Through Virtual Native Lands one can contact a tribe member, and get accurate information on culture. Belonging to a tribe gives one a national identity, not just a background. The difference is in knowing the politics, and being involved in day-to-day activities. Nany described the difference to me using Irish Americans, who say, have a background, a history of a culture behind them, and people living in Ireland today. Actual tribal members have a different culture and perspective than those who are not. Most Virtual Native Lands members have tribal affiliations.
The facinating Apache area

Aside from providing education in SL, Virtual Native Lands supports Native American artists through jobs. And there is a marvelous Indian Made craft store in the sky you can shop at complete with frybread and tacos! YUM!
TP upstairs for fry bread

But back to the land itself! Nany knows the Southeast, being Cherokee and all, so this part of project is most well developed at this point. She does not expect to do it all either. Nany is always on the look out for contributors from various tribes to participate. You will see unobtrusive, artfully done slide shows near each exhibit scattered throughout the land. Each part of the landscape shows how native life reflected the land: the homes, the crafts, and the rituals. The Apache exhibit in particular explains several native rituals that are just beautiful. So from the tropics, to the woodlands, to the Great Plains, the mountains, the deserts, and the cold north, Virtual Native Lands have week’s worth of lessons, more probably. So come back often and check it out in little bits. Don’t forget, this project is not even done yet.
Pacific NW, my neck of the woods
Inuit territory

Turtle Island is beautiful

Let me tell you, Nany has thought of every detail! One would not want the natural landscape lit up or littered with billboards, therefore Nany has even put tiny lights over the exhibits to keep it discreet. Great idea, I say. So it it’s dark when you visit, don’t change the sun, click a light to read by. Nany says “it was real tricky trying to represent something that large with avatars out of scale with land" She tries to continue the "narrative" have information, and design fluidly, to make it visually compelling and authentic. And guess what? It really works! Check it out inworld! Here is the SLurl:

The Rocky Mountains

Seminole Chickee