Indigenous students get creative with geospatial data

By Manahil Bandukwala
December 14, 2017

Indigenous students get creative with geospatial data

Minecraft, one of the bestselling video games of all time, allows players to build complex imaginary worlds in 3D. But Nicole Collison and Kyla Hvatum, young Indigenous women from Inuvik, used data conversion software to create a Minecraft world of their town’s satellite station facility. Nicole and Kyla were 18 years old at the time and had just graduated from high school.

Learning new software

Learning to manipulate data on landscapes and structures updated with satellites is more fun when Minecraft is involved. Nicole and Kyla gathered NRCan data online about the region’s elevation, vegetation, lakes, rivers and roads. Using special computer software, they converted this geographic information system (GIS) data, updated with satellites, into pixels.

Then, using elevation data to make the output 3D, Nicole and Kyla built the Minecraft satellite station, which presents a detailed model of satellite antennas, trees and polar bears.

“I’ve accomplished some short-term goals that I thought I’d never even been able to interpret,” says Kyla. “We built some sort of terrain in Minecraft and captured real data points….”

Trekking through Inuvik

The two students also built a story map of Inuvik. Using handheld GPS receivers, they travelled by trail, road and water and converted the data they collected into a map of the community. Users can click on the map to identify points of interest, while accompanying text tells a more detailed story.

Nicole and Kyla were hired and supervised by Laura Salisbury, a geomatics officer with Natural Resources Canada. In only eight weeks, she taught them enough about geospatial data to allow them to build the Minecraft world and map. While neither student knew much about geomatics at the start, the project gave them a hands-on opportunity to expand their interest in science, while learning how to use different software.

Experience and inspiration

Hiring Nicole and Kyla was part of a pilot project to provide Indigenous peoples and women with experience in science, technology, engineering and math fields. The project also saw the students meet other Inuvik women in science who shared their research and sources of inspiration.

“Working with Nicole and Kyla in Inuvik not only developed my project management skills but also changed my perspective on Indigenous issues and my understanding of their experiences,” says Laura. “I’m very grateful for this opportunity.”

Watch a video of the Minecraft world, and keep an eye out for polar bears!

Text version

This video goes through the landscape in the Minecraft world of the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF). You can see satellite antenna, coniferous trees, paths, and rivers, as well as the elevated landscape of the ISSF.  There are polar bears and spiders in the world, and the video shows rainfall, sunset, and nighttime at the station as well.