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Tech startup launches Nunavut Makerspace

Pinnguaq’s new Iqaluit hub gives youth a chance to get creative with computers and high-tech gadgets

By BETH BROWN

Courtney Schreiter of Canada Learning Code, a group that promotes education in computer programming, uses a tablet as the remote control for light-up robots. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)


Courtney Schreiter of Canada Learning Code, a group that promotes education in computer programming, uses a tablet as the remote control for light-up robots. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Staff of Nunavut’s tech startup, Pinnguaq, pose by the group’s new Iqaluit makerspace. From left: Gail Hodder, Ryan Oliver, Talia Metuq and Maria Coates. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)


Staff of Nunavut’s tech startup, Pinnguaq, pose by the group’s new Iqaluit makerspace. From left: Gail Hodder, Ryan Oliver, Talia Metuq and Maria Coates. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Talia Metuq has always loved learning about Inuit mythology.

But she found that in her home community of Pangnirtung there weren’t enough places for youth to learn about their folklore.

As a game designer and community curriculum developer for Nunavut’s tech startup Pinnguaq—and one of the first youth involved in the organization’s coding camp—Metuq, 25, set out to design a new computer game that could change that.

The game, titled Inuit Uppirijatuqangit, launched on Monday, Sept. 24, during an open house that also marked the opening of a new Iqaluit makerspace.

Pinnguaq, Nunavut’s tech startup, opened the new community creative hub in Iqaluit’s Lower Base neighbourhood to support science and computer-based learning in the Nunavut capital.

To check out the makerspace, you can drop by house 754, which was formerly the Saimavik yoga studio. You might even get to play Metuq’s game, where you can learn about upwards of 40 Inuit mythological creatures—like the Mahaha that can tickle you until you die, and the Qalupalik that takes children into the sea when they misbehave.

Or this myth: “When you laugh at a dog when it’s farting, you get a beauty dot on your forehead,” Metuq says, while pointing to her face and laughing.

Monday’s open house also featured tablet-controlled robots, coding tutorials, computer stations set up to play Minecraft, and board games.

“Their energy is what I love,” Metuq says of the youth she sees working on Pinnguaq programs. “I enjoy seeing them enjoying what we teach.”

But what is a makerspace, anyways?

“It’s a spot to create,” Pinnguaq’s Ryan Oliver told Nunatsiaq News. “This is going to be a spot to access stuff you can’t normally get at home.”

Virtual reality headsets, high-end computers and 3D printers are among the equipment that Oliver says will be on offer later.

Once the pilot space gets off the ground, Pinnguaq plans to run a project that mixes carving skills with 3D modelling.

“The opportunities that exist here won’t exist elsewhere, because of the culture that they’re rooted in and because of the language,” Oliver said. “Computers can be used as artistic tools. Given Nunavut’s strong artistic history and present, it makes a lot of sense to add technology to that.”

Also at the space this week, Pinnguaq staff will be teaching Nunavut’s disabilities society how to deliver its computer coding curriculum, called te(a)ch.

Pinnguaq will look to build more partnerships like this around Iqaluit, so the space can be used by schools and community groups.

Te(a)ch is funded through the 2016 Arctic Inspiration Prize, along with federal funding for coding education. Now, Pinnguaq is vying for support through a Smart Cities Challenge award, worth up to $10 million.

“If we won that prize, we’d want to grow this model across Nunavut,” Oliver said.

One of the biggest challenges with delivering te(a)ch coding programs in Nunavut communities is sustaining learning after a training team leaves, he said.

A makerspace like this would fill that void in those communities. And in Iqaluit, having an accessible downtown location like the little orange house 754 helps too.

“This place is perfect for what we want to do,” Oliver said.

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