Using Virtual Reality to Empower Education, Protection and Restoration of Indigenous Waterways

Authors: Brian Footen

Disciplines: Environmental Studies, History, Native American Studies

Themes: Cultural Preservation, Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resources

Tribes: Coast Salish People of Puget Sound, Lower Elwha Klallam, Nisqually, Squaxin Island

Over 100 years ago big box cameras were used to document the indigenous people and the landscapes of the Salish Sea Basin. These pictures were the first of their kind and required extreme effort to produce. The photographers needed to haul heavy equipment and glass plates, sometimes 100’s of miles into the field. They then returned, and using extreme care developed the images captured on the glass. Created by using the most advanced technology of the time, these images are of extreme importance, giving us a portal into what life was like then and how the surrounding landscape appeared. Today the most advanced photographic technology uses 360- degree panoramic cameras to produce immersive virtual environments that can be accessed on desktop computers, mobile devices, or virtual reality headsets. Google “Street View'' famously popularized this technology by using it to visualize and map our streets. This case explores how taking virtual reality technology beyond our streets by following in the footsteps of the first photographers that ventured into hard-to-reach places can connect indigenous people to the remote areas of the Salish Sea Basin. For the indigenous stewards of these critical places, modern virtual reality visualizations are important tools empowering waterway natural resource management, education, and cultural resource protection.