THUNDER BAY -- As a kid, back when television had fewer options to choose from, the dose of my entertainment came from sitting with my grandparents at night, sipping on hot chocolate, listening to their stories, and sleeping to their voices. Some of the best lessons in my life were taught that night, and the day after, and every night they shared their life experiences.
From being born in an era that fought against colonization to growing old in an era facing the third pandemic of their lives, their lives were not short of major events and hardships. I remember thinking in that moment, nights ago: Man, I wish I could preserve these talks for my friends and my future self to hear.
Voila, an intelligent Indigenous woman from a Northern part of Canada heard my thoughts and brought to life her business, ORIGIN, where they utilize the potential of Virtual Reality (VR) to shift how people connect with their culture and career.
Fourteen years ago, Melissa Hardy- Giles, the brains, and the muscles behind ORIGIN, founded the company with an aim to give the communities skills at a grassroot level and be self-sustained; the teachings of the seven grandfathers guiding the way.
Her belief was that everyone has a unique and valuable set of skillsets, and it must be cultivated in the population to create more opportunities for the Indigenous population in Canada.
The forefathers’ teachings, valuable as they are, could be left behind if it wasn’t adapted to the world today.
The answer to that adaptation was already in Melissa’s mind: tech implementation.
With that knowledge, and a trip to Los Angeles for a VR (Virtual Reality) convention, led to development of a creative business model.
As luck would have it, by the time the business model had been developed, the world was introduced to the mighty Oculus!
Reconciliating with a Virtual Reality
A fear that all the teachings from the seven fathers will be left behind combined with a fire to educate people on the importance of reconciliation, Melissa created a cultural library in a pandemic world that preserves the Indigenous stories in a small oculus console.
We are painted with one brush, and I hope that with proper education, that can be changed. The cultures in our communities are so rich, and in provinces like British Columbia, they are honoured. My hope is that we get to that point one day. The best way to get there is to start spotlighting the gifts in our community, which is why I created this cultural library. Everyone in the community has different experiences, some harder than others. We started the Share your Roots contest that ran nationwide to call out Indigenous knowledge keepers to share their stories. A contest that brought a sense of pride and something positive during the residential school discoveries in Canada. The stories that won were added to the cultural library. The best part about it is that anyone with a headset across Canada and a subscription can access these stories,” says Melissa, with pride glistening in her eyes.
A personal career coach for the community
Now, with Immersive Link, your personal career coach is only one Virtual foot away, sharing his/her own experiences in the industry.
To promote women in trades, and make the Indigenous population feel more confident in putting their gifted skillset to use, Melissa invested in four caterpillar heavy equipment simulator, to give people a chance to give heavy equipment a shot, and to get the community, often shy, out of their comfortable cocoons.
“There’s a lot of construction in First Nations, but due to lack of skills, they hire their own people even though they want to do community hiring. These simulators provide a safer environment for people to get started and gain confidence in their skills before they step into the field. We often put a negative spin to what people can and cannot do. People should do what they love and consider fun. For this, they need to realize what they would be happy doing. Our library offers just that,” Melissa adds.
Immersive Link, started in October 2019, and in two years have grown to more than 1,000 schools across Canada accessing a new age career coach experience.
“Things are changing. We are doing the right thing and we have to keep going,” Melissa adds.