#1060: Using VR to Tell Native American Stories with OurWorlds & “Choctaw Code Talkers 1918”

I talk with the creators of Choctaw Code Talkers 1918, Kilma Lattin, Founder & CEO of OurWorlds as well as Catherine Eng, Co-founder & CTO of OurWorlds, who are bringing Native American Stories to VR with their platform. OurWorlds won the SXSW EDU launch startup competition earlier in the week, and then premiered their VR documentary about the cryptographic use of the Choctaw language in World War I at the SXSW XR Competition. They talk about their journeys into VR, the process of coalition building amongst Native American Tribes, and many Indigenous insights into the use of VR to capture the oral storytelling of indigenous culture.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So I'm going to be diving into a number of different interviews I did at the South by Southwest Film Festival. I interviewed a number of different XR creators on different projects that they're working on, starting with Choctaw Code Talkers 1918. So this is a piece by Kim Alaton and Catherine Ng. Our Worlds is a platform that they're not only telling this story that was featured in the SXSW XR experiences, but they were also a part of the competition for the SXSW EDU. So, it's more of an educational platform where they're going into different Native American communities and being able to capture different stories to be able to share them within their platform. So, that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR Podcast. So, this interview with Kilma and Catherine happened on Monday, March 14th, 2022. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:00.413] Kilma Lattin: Hi, I'm Kilma Lattin, founder and CEO of Our Worlds, and we are a content production studio that works primarily with Native Americans, giving primary source voices to America's oldest civilization.

[00:01:15.463] Catherine Eng: My name is Catherine Ng, and I'm the co-founder and chief technology officer of Our Worlds, and I've been working with Kilma to basically create this vision that we've come up with together, to create primary source narratives and present them in place-based locations around the world.

[00:01:30.701] Kent Bye: Great. Maybe you could each give me a bit more context as to your background and your journey into immersive storytelling.

[00:01:36.505] Kilma Lattin: Sure. So my journey into immersive storytelling began in 2014 at the Harvard Business School when I had an epiphany that Native Americans had the sovereign right to determine their digital futures. And that effort began with a concept of digitizing an ancient tribal hand game known as Peon, where I put code to culture and came up with a mobile game. I had thought about using AR and VR to digitize our culture and our stories, or our games at that point, but just didn't have the technical or the design experience. And so we designed the mobile game Peon, and it transformed our culture. into a digital format and people were able to play their games on demand on mobile devices and it didn't really go anywhere technologically but culturally it was very significant and then that project sat on the shelf until I met Catherine a few years later and she brought the technical design and the know-how to actually bring this idea to life about AR and VR merging with culture.

[00:02:41.825] Catherine Eng: Yeah, so my journey, you know, I guess I jumped on the train a little bit later than Kilma. Essentially my background is in design and development and I've created apps for Disney Channel and for Nickelodeon and basically youth media and we've had some success there, over 3 million downloads. you know, some top 10 apps. But essentially, I hadn't really been thinking about VR, but I started a STEM camp. And when Kilman, his son, came to the STEM camp and got to talking, and I saw the Paeone game that he had done, and I was really charmed by it and wanted to learn more about the actual game and how it was played in the context of real life. We went to a Paeone game, which is played at night over a campfire, and it was really just this wonderful experience. And we began talking about how you really can capture culture in extended reality, virtual reality, And these were some of the ideas that Kilma had already had. And I began to find out more about XR and VR and AR workflows. That year I entered the MIT Reality Virtually Hackathon and our team won. And it really kind of set me on my path of just discovering what 360 was. Basically, primarily what we want to do is create workflows that are replicable, that are efficient, that can really sort of starting points even for native STEM learners. So we're creating workflows that are really achievable by even non-expert STEM and visual effects people. So that's sort of the story of where we are today.

[00:04:04.661] Kent Bye: OK, and we're here at South by Southwest where you're premiering an immersive story called Choctaw Code Talkers. So I've heard of the Navajo use of Native American languages for cryptographic use in the military context, but that was like World War II. And so tell me the story of how you came across the predecessor to that and how you decided to translate that story into an immersive story here at South by Southwest.

[00:04:26.230] Kilma Lattin: Absolutely. Yeah, so fascinating story. We were producing content about Native Americans using immersive realities and we were working with Native Americans in the studio and as we were building our workflows and building our narratives and building our stories, I came across a little blurb that the Choctaw were the original Code Talkers and it challenged my own understanding because I had always thought it was the Navajo from World War II as well. and not to take anything away from those brave soldiers of the Navajo in World War II, but I wanted to start to see if I'm the only one who had the story wrong, and so as we were working with other tribal leaders and artists, I started an informal query process, and I just would ask them, hey, you know, who are the original Code Talkers? 10 out of 10 of them were like, oh, it's Navajo World War II. And I realized, I had the aha moment that if we don't even know our own history, then there's a bigger problem. And so right then, I told Catherine, I said, this story has to go to the top of the production list. We have to tell this story. And she was on board. She saw the significance of it. So that's where we started this Chalk Talk co-talking story, because Again, not to take anything away from the Navajo, but if we're going to tell the story of code talking, we have to tell the whole history. The original code talkers were the Choctaw from World War I and a little bit more the National Security Agency. The NSA recognized the Choctaw as the first linguistic cryptologist used, and they've been inducted into the Hall of Honor. So the reason why, too, and the most significant part of this story, the question is, why did the Navajo get the press and the Choctaw didn't? It's because the Choctaw were used at the end of World War I for like a day and a half, like a battle, couple battles, and it was so significant. They shut it down, they said, everybody go home, don't talk about it, top secret. Remember, all we had really was radio back then. So the story was kind of covered up, top secret, buried, go home, don't talk about it. World War II happens, and the Marine Corps was like, hey, What was that stuff, Army guys, what were you doing with the Choctaw? Okay, get us some Navajos, let's get people together. So they decided to use a Navajo over a year and a half, multiple campaigns, multiple battles, and when World War II ended, there was no moratorium on the story. And it blew up and you saw it on the news, we had different forms of media, on the radio, and it became this big story about how language was used to help end the war of World War II. And so this big story about the Navajo and the Choctaw were stuck kind of saying, well, wait a second, you know, we were doing that too in World War I, but our story totally got buried. And so from that moment, that was the inception of the history that is important, but there's more to the story. And so that's what this film is about. It's about setting the record straight, not taking anything away from anybody, but just telling the whole story about a language that was illegal to be spoken. The kids were getting whipped in schools back home in America because they were trying to assimilate the Native Americans. These weren't even American citizens. The Native Americans were not considered American citizens in 1918. Their language was forbidden. They couldn't speak their language. They were punished for doing it. And then there was this field officer in World War I who overheard the Choctaw speaking their language and he said, oh my gosh, our codes keep getting broken by the Germans. Aha, like they wouldn't know the Choctaw language. So he ran it up the chain of command. to Colonel Bloor, who was the commanding officer over that. And he said, OK, let's give it a try. And then, boom, it worked. And it was like the Germans couldn't break that code. And then they were on the defeat. And that's the story that Catherine narrates so well in our four-minute XR experience.

[00:07:56.284] Kent Bye: Yeah, just a follow-up question, because you had mentioned that you had worked on a previous project working with indigenous culture and translating it, and maybe you could talk about your own background. Are you Choctaw, or how does it work that you come in and start to tell stories, and if it's a part of your specific culture or other cultures that are another tribe or something like that? Like, how do you navigate that?

[00:08:15.827] Kilma Lattin: Right. So everybody has culture. Every community has culture. And that's what we're trying to capture in our worlds is primary source narratives from community leaders who have the authenticity and the primary source to tell stories in their community, geolocated around the world. I mean, it's a global scale and that's what we're targeting. But Beyond that, my credibility, I grew up on an Indian reservation in abject poverty. I waited in line for powdered food, powdered eggs, powdered milk, powdered potatoes, canned vegetables. And I grew up on my reservation very poor. Education set me free. I went and I got my education, was able to move on and went in the military. I was a military pilot. I flew attack helicopters. I flew reconnaissance missions and came back to my tribe. and ran for office and was elected as a tribal leader on the tribal council, and I served three elected terms. And I wasn't just growing up on the reservation, seeing things from a kind of the ground level. Now, when you're elected to tribal leadership, you see things from a much higher perspective. You realize, you know, there's five families whose kids just got taken away. There's two other people who are addicted to drugs now, and they're in the hospital. So you start to see things on a bigger scale. And that's where the education piece and my background and my military background kind of kicked in where I was like, okay, cool. We're going to start to make changes. Here's how we're going to do it. And I began a six year tenure as a tribal leader to really drive change on Indian reservations and on our reservation specifically, but then a little more on the national scale. But anyways, that's a little more about, I don't want to talk too long, but that's a little more about my background.

[00:09:49.313] Kent Bye: Okay, that helps to set a bit more context there. And so when you're coming on to this project, where do you pick up and start to build out this project that we see here at South by Southwest? We have the initial idea and kernel, what do you do next to be able to develop this story?

[00:10:02.273] Catherine Eng: Yeah, no, that's a great question. And so, you know, I don't know if we'd mentioned it yet, but, you know, we're very, very fortunate and humbled, deeply humbled to have won South by Southwest EDU last week. And the narrative that we told there is really the narrative of the heart of the project, which is we're telling stories. What would be wonderful to do is, for example, one way we could look at it is let's do a state of the nation of Native American governments today. You know, if we were able to capture narratives from all 565 tribal chiefs, That would be something absolutely incredible. Primary source from the ground up, boots on the ground, this is how government looks in Indian country today. And that would be something that would be a goal of the project. Another goal of the project, of course, is also to capture the words of the elders. and there are several elders that we've met in our community in San Diego who are incredibly generous with their knowledge and they want to pass down what they know of ethnobotany, ethnohistory, you know, basically how the tribe used to connect with the land and water-going traditions. So in San Diego, what's a really interesting fact that I only found out since I was on the project is that there are more Native American tribal nations in San Diego County than any other county in the US, dating back to over 10,000 years ago. So these are their ancestral lands. They're still living on their ancestral lands. But what has changed is their access to the water, access to the waterways. And so we're working with Dr. Stanley Rodriguez, who is a director at Kumeyaay Community College. He also lectures at Cal State San Marcos, and just kind of this wonderful person who gives a lot to the community in terms of his knowledge and his time. and getting the youth especially acquainted again with the waterway traditions of the Kumeyaay people. And so that model has yielded some wonderful experiences on the application. So in addition to his own narratives, we also record him in the field harvesting the reeds to make the boats and have recordings of the whole community coming together to build the boats, recordings of the actual boat itself and photogrammetry. So anywhere that you're along the coast in San Diego, you're going to be able to see one of these Thule boats and really kind of check it out. I mean, it's like man-made reality. So, you know, I think that this is a model that we want to be able to replicate all over the country. I mean, just going through wherever you are, understanding the legacy of a place, the history of a place.

[00:12:12.185] Kilma Lattin: So one thing I would add, and if it's my final word, this is what I would say. Immersive realities are critical to capturing Native American culture because we've been limited by traditional media forms, radio, television, two-dimensional stuff. With immersive realities, we can comprehensively capture our culture in a way we haven't been able to do before. We can interact with our baskets, we can feature boats in 360, we can see our people holographically, we can work in 360 worlds. We can use artificial intelligence for language revitalization and preservation. And the crossover for Native Americans into immersive reality has been seamless, because we're an oral, traditional people. We tell our stories, and we have these imaginations, and we have cave paintings. We have all these ways to express ourselves. But in books, letters, words, it's different. So now with immersive realities, you can paint these pictures of these stories that we've had for thousands of years, that we've put on walls, that we've drawn ourselves. So immersive reality in Native Americans and cultural stories are a lot more closely related than people might think. And the other thing that's significant about that is that we're inspiring Native Americans, intergenerational, young and old, to see their stories brought to life. And now they're curious, hey, what is this medium that you guys are using? And we've had virtually 100% buy-in from everyone we've worked with. The community has been very open about immersive realities, telling their stories. And that's what we're pioneering. And the last thing I'll say, what is indigenous wisdom? What does indigenous or native wisdom, what can it teach us about the metaverse? You might not think much, but what I think is that indigenous wisdom, ancient wisdom will tell you that knowledge transfer happens experientially in nature. So this almost dystopian concept of sitting at home immersed in the metaverse or in the VR, you know, for us that's almost the wrong model. This top-down development of, there's some companies, I'm not going to say anything, but there's some companies, hey we're going to build this thing and the rest of you are going to find your place in it later. Okay, there's some tribes that don't even have access to the internet. So some tribes are going to arrive 20, 30 years late to the metaverse and where are they going to be? In a digital reservation somewhere stuck because they didn't spend two million to buy downtown metaverse? Do you see what I'm saying? The model is wrong for our people. And so we're taking control of our digital future. We're telling our stories on our terms and we're geolocating it connected to the place where you are, the land where you can learn. That's my story.

[00:14:47.778] Kent Bye: Yeah, I wanted to ask about, it's really interesting to hear how the tribal leaders had one perspective of what the story was, and then you found other information that was documented that was presumably secret at the time because the NSA didn't want that information out, so it was maybe not as well broadcast, but I was reading a book by Tyson Yukuporta, Sand Talk, where he goes through this process of trying to explain how with this oral storytelling tradition that there's like almost a resistance to commit things to the written word just because it does lose so much of the context. And so he went through the process of drawing paintings and different explorations of oral history and community discussions that then he would synthesize. And so with virtual reality, I guess the thing that I see similar to the written word in other media is that it is committed to like a canonical version that is maybe different than an oral storytelling tradition that is continually evolving. But then this is an example where maybe this is pushing back to that oral storytelling tradition because there's maybe information that was not passed down or just was not available because it was classified secret. So I'm just curious how you see that fits into the larger cultural discussions by bringing forth discussions like this, documented by the U.S. government and NSA, but yet may not be a part of the existing culture. And how do you see those things blurring together?

[00:15:59.402] Kilma Lattin: Yeah, you know, I can give it from the inside perspective. I feel like I defer that question to Catherine because she's seen this a little bit more from an outside perspective. So I would leverage, you know, how has this looked to you? You know, his question.

[00:16:12.513] Catherine Eng: No, absolutely. So I'll give a sort of big picture and then I'll narrow in on really the Choctaw story specifically. What's been really interesting is, of course, many people who are on social media today can see that there is kind of a groundswell of native TikTokers and influencers who are champions of their culture. and they put forward the fashion, the food, the music, and it's very cool. Humor, you know. But what's missing is, I think, the voices of the elders. And so we have, what has been really sort of encouraging to see is people are beginning to understand our app. You know, we are in open beta now. Young people are starting to use it. they actually do screen recordings of the holograms in the spaces where they go, and they're like, yes, what if we were able to capture our elders and sort of have them around with us, almost as if they're here still with us, the physical aspect of their presence, you know, it would be just so inspiring. And so that is exactly what we're trying to do. And so we're so happy that people are beginning to pick up on that because that is what's missing from social media, you know, the voices of the elders. you know, especially with the Choctaw story, you know, just being able to intersect with Choctaw Nation, which has been so generous with their knowledge, and, you know, we've spoken to the education director, and, you know, we even sent her a 360 camera, and she was able to document some locations near Choctaw headquarters and the memorial itself with our 360 camera, and she sent it back, and then also working with the language school, the school of Choctaw language has been incredibly generous. They translated some of the original field messages, and then also we can sort of assume just typical military code. You know, we had them translate and read some of those. So I think the authenticity aspect of it is extremely important, and people pick up on that. When we show the forest in the experience, that was actually shot in the Musargan forest where the battle was fought. So, place-based locations being so important to native cultures. All of those things combined, we really just strive for authenticity and we're going to really do that for all of the types of activations that we have coming up.

[00:18:06.450] Kilma Lattin: to answer the question super direct. I mean, if they were told not to say anything when they got home, they just didn't say anything. You know, it's just following orders. Good soldiers. You know, they went away and they came back. They did their job. And it's an amazing story. And we're happy to tell, you know, the Choctaw tribe is the third largest tribe in the United States and to have their endorsement and their support and to have them participate. And they, you know, they gave us some money to build our set and things. So to have the support of the Choctaw nation behind us, you know, really validates not only our model, but our mission and to get the story done in four minutes, you know, I feel like this is a great model for VR storytelling, quick stories, you know, and for us, speaking for myself, you know, just let's hit the significant parts and move on, so.

[00:18:47.648] Kent Bye: Yeah, I have to say it's a really impressive installation that you have here with this World War I tents and all this sort of authenticity. You said you were collaborating with different museum curators to get that extra touch of authenticity.

[00:18:59.289] Kilma Lattin: Yeah, so we understood the importance of coalition building. We were able to secure the endorsement and a little financial support from the owners of the Fairmont Austin. You'll see their emblem in our film. The Texas Military Museum, who has a Choctaw Code Talker, they've lended their support. They've lent us a World War I field telephone, a desk, you know. reenactors. You saw the World War I reenactors. So, you know, this is coalition building. This is community building. This is the model of storytelling that we're about, bringing these Smithsonian-like, high-quality, primary source, quality information. There's so much disinformation out there and so much fantasy. You know, we want to cut through the noise and be that curated, Smithsonian-style, primary source, high-quality, good information. Those are the productions that we're after. We want to be a very boutique-y, curated experience that highlights the best of who we are as a culture, because I want America to see the best of us. I want the world to see the best of us. But more importantly, I want us to see the best of us. We need role models in our communities. We need role models to look up to. And so I want us to see the best of us, and I want the world to see the best of us. And so that's what makes this production so great, in my opinion.

[00:20:09.280] Kent Bye: Yeah, and in terms of genre, just to move to a bit of a technical question, it seems like it's blending 360 video but also maybe some depth kit captured volumetric movements of these soldiers moving through. Maybe you could talk about the aesthetic decision to blur both the 360 video cinematic look and feel and then the depth kit feel.

[00:20:27.103] Catherine Eng: No, absolutely. And, you know, so I think, you know, as I mentioned before, the place-based aspect of storytelling is extremely important to, you know, many indigenous stories of Native American and certainly other indigenous cultures. And, you know, I think that one thing that is also quite universal among cultures is how do you represent historical characters respectfully. We don't truly know what they look like and we don't truly know what it felt like to be in their presence. So one of the decisions that we made, because certainly with Depth Kit and with volumetric capture in general, what you've got is actually quite valuable. I mean, it's this object that has this mesh and it has information like a photographic layer that you can then... So, you know, at any point we can make a creative decision, for example, to paint back on the photographic texture map and then they could just look like, you know, 3D avatar like you would see in many other applications. For example, a game engine, a game like Valorant or something like this. But we actually do feel like it is more important for the viewer to bring something to it. And so there's something about leaving out some of the detail and leaving in the energy and what we found in our experiments with the dots and the point clouds and certainly the lines in the mesh. It feels like energy. What we would love to convey is these were people, there was a real presence and they had an energy and a life to them, and that's what we want to get across. You know, the actual details of what exactly did they look like and their facial features is far less important.

[00:21:55.211] Kent Bye: Okay, yeah, that totally makes sense. So there's a scene that you have in your piece where there's people standing in a circle, and it felt like being within almost like a community, you know, being a part of that. Maybe you could describe the thinking in terms of the connection of trying to feel like you're connected within a context of a circle with this piece.

[00:22:12.832] Catherine Eng: Yeah, it's really been wonderful getting the opportunity creatively to tell this story. I think it's wonderful and certainly as a parent, you know, I understand in a certain way from a perspective of a parent how terrible war really is and the humanity of seeing 19 soldiers sent far, far, far from home. and put in harm's way. And to be fortunately able to be together and have a little bit of community in this foreign place was one of the reasons why it just seemed to make sense aesthetically to sort of place them in the round. And part of that is also a creative efficiency decision. So we didn't really know exactly how the narrative of the story was going to go. That actually came a little bit later. But we knew instinctively that we were going to take the one actor that we had, we had a sort of small studio to record this in, and we were going to be able to do things. So we had him do a variety of different things. One of them was just sort of standing there. One of them was, you know, of course, putting on the gas mask, taking it on and off. Another was, you know, just having him run. And really the technology that we had earmarked for this, you know, we're using Unity and we're able to choreograph things exactly the way we wanted. It's been really sort of magical experience being able to get the environments and get the groups together and do the choreography after everything was shot, so.

[00:23:36.478] Kilma Lattin: And just to add to that and direct answer to that is, you know, community is based in who we are. So, you know, if we can help the viewer feel part of more of a community, to me it means it's more significant as a storyteller to include our viewer as part of our story. Some of the other experiences I've seen, you know, you're disassociated, you know, you see a character doing something or you're kind of from an outside perspective. We want to bring the viewer in, you know, what was it like to be surrounded by these people, this energy, this story? So you're getting washed through their mesh, their point cloud, you know, the dots, you're washing through these things. And so for us, it's important from a communal standpoint, because that hits at the heart of our model at our company, Our Worlds. you know, we're taking this communal approach to world building, you know, we want everybody's voices to be heard. We're starting at the beginning with Native Americans, but community, there's so many people who are represented by communities. I mean, we had a few members of the black community come through our EDU booth and they cried and they said, what if we could tell our stories this way, based in our homes, our stories, our places, you know, places where we grew up, the pain, the trauma, how can we share our stories, this place where we've arrived in America and the places where we've been stuck. We want to tell our stories place-based, so we're going to follow up after this conference with some members of other communities, and we're realizing culture belongs to everybody. We're all native from somewhere. We just happen to be Native Americans, so we're starting our stories with the beginning. of American civilization, but we're all native from somewhere and we're arriving in this place in America together. I'm realistic. We're never going to have what we had in the past. These fights about land and pipelines and things, you know, there's people for that from my community, but me, I'm looking forward. I can't move forward if I'm looking backwards. So I take a pragmatic approach. We live here. It's 2022. We're all in this country. We have to move forward together. It's time to heal. We have to understand each other. So let's start building community. And if AR, VR, if these immersive technologies can help us all better empathize and see each other's point of view from primary sources, we're going to begin a new narrative as a country and I want us to start to heal. And I think immersive realities are doing that. I've seen some, you know, like weird times and I've seen some other experiences that are hitting on these social issues and creating impact. And that's what we're doing. We're just doing it from a different perspective.

[00:25:48.300] Kent Bye: I'm just curious if you've had a chance to show it from anyone from the Choctaw community and what their reaction was.

[00:25:53.047] Kilma Lattin: Yeah, I'll start and you jump in. Okay, cool. The answer is yes, the Choctaw community has been involved with our project from the beginning. Before we even started putting code to culture, before we started putting code to this story, we were on the phone with Choctaw. We said, hey, you know, who would we speak to about it? You know, we went through our process of curating the story. We worked with their language school to recreate the actual transmissions that were used to help end the war. So, when you hear our experience and you hear the talking, you're listening to someone from the Choctaw Language School who's recreating actual messages. So, you're immersed in the actual message that were used to help end the war. And we went through the process, we made the film, we sent it to them immediately. They wanted to see it because, you know, hey, they wanted to know what is this studio, Our Worlds, what are they putting out about our story? And they saw it and the feedback was just overwhelmingly supportive. We have the chief of the tribe gave us a real nice quote for our press release. Their former legal counsel saw it, loved it. They sent a press team down here. There were two members of their Choctaw Nation Press came and they did an interview yesterday. And then we had a descendant of one of the original Choctaw Code Talkers. He came down and he spoke and was with us for a few days. His name is D.G. Smalling. He's a Choctaw artist. So, yes, this has been big collaboration. But that's at the heart of our model. We're telling community stories. So, and then, Catherine, what do you...

[00:27:14.095] Catherine Eng: Yeah, no, exactly that. I mean, you know, we always want these stories to come from the narrative authority of whose story it is. We don't want to be the ones to tell somebody else's story. And our platform really is just an interface between the past and the present in geolocation. And it's really up to us to reach out to the communities who want to tell the stories, who have a story to share and to put it into places. So that's really our model. And we feel really fortunate to have had the support from the Choctaw Nation and to have D.G. Smalling and his wife come down and They're actually really active in STEM outreach as well and so we certainly see many intersections with what they're doing at the reservation in the tribal education for the youth in teaching them the workflows for extended reality and really getting a pipeline into the work. We recently met Nani de la Pena, of course, and she is doing wonderful work with ASU and bringing immersive storytelling workflows to secondary, post-secondary stakeholders and creators. We are perhaps starting a little bit earlier even than that, as I mentioned before, you know, we actually met at a STEM camp, I am a STEM educator, and certainly the pipeline to immersive storytelling can begin far sooner than that. Middle school, high school, you know, I think that there are a lot of tech-savvy kids out there and they just need another entry into STEM.

[00:28:27.870] Kilma Lattin: I think one more thing and we buried our lead. We missed the obvious. So we started our company 18 months ago and we're totally honored that the other competitors at South by EDU for the launch competition for best tech startup were just incredible companies. To emerge as the winner of that was like, took us by surprise. I mean, we know we're doing important work, but it was like, oh my gosh, like this is real. And the one thing that we've overlooked in this conversation is the fact that we have the endorsement of 25 tribal nations. We are quickly becoming an institution. I mean, we have the backing of 25 nations who are entrusting us to tell their stories in a good way. I mean, try to get 25 tribes to do anything. It can be difficult. There's 570 tribes total, but We're walking in here with some strength behind us, some real wind behind us. Having the backing of 25 tribal nations and then having the backing of the third largest tribe in the country tells us that we're doing it right. We're doing something right. We're building bridges between institutions, tribes, underserved communities, people who need to do STEM, immersive realities, historical storytelling. We're that centerpiece that's missing because you have all these people that are talking and fighting from different angles. We're in the middle of it and people are saying, yes, that. our worlds what you're doing at our worlds there's a need for that and that's what we're capturing and and it's just been the feedback has been amazing and south by southwest has been so supportive you know i mean it's just i i didn't know i thought we were gonna get buried here you know i i grew up on a reservation where we get buried you know we don't you know what i mean like i thought we're gonna come here and just gonna be you know pushed off You know, I was just like, cool, we're going to have this booth and we're in this competition, but don't get your hopes up, you know. And then we come and it's like, oh my gosh, like they're replying to our emails. They're asking if there's some things they can do to help us. You know, like all of a sudden, like, I feel like our voice is heard. I feel like, you know, our worlds came and now people have heard of us. And it's like, oh my gosh, okay, pinch me. Like this just doesn't happen. So it's just a great feeling.

[00:30:22.521] Kent Bye: Yeah, I have to say at the end, or is it the end or the beginning, I don't remember, but there was a, usually there's sometimes like a logo graveyard showing all the logos, and the way that you showed all your logos, it was like completely immersive in the full dome, where it was like, oh my gosh, there's a lot of people that were involved, but it sounds like that fundamental philosophy of all my relations, of this relationality and cooperation and collaboration and coalition building, you can really see that.

[00:30:43.676] Kilma Lattin: That was that was important Catherine and I you know we go through this creative process and we agree on so many things some things we disagree on but one thing that we definitely agreed on was we want to bring the viewer in and feel blanketed by the love by the support by who's behind us because you know when you come into this space you know it can feel lonely and dark in VR sometimes you know but when you're blanketed by all 25 tribal nations you see the Fairmont logo, Texas Military Forces Museum Choctaw Nation. You're like, oh my gosh. Okay, cool I'm part of something much bigger and it brings comfort. It's like a nice segue Did you catch the version where the all the tribal support and the logos were on the front end or the back end?

[00:31:18.710] Kent Bye: That's what I said. I don't remember if it was the beginning or the end. I just sort of remember it. I think it might have been at the end though.

[00:31:23.295] Kilma Lattin: Yeah, yeah. I mean, we talk about when to present that, but yeah, the answer is yes. We wanted to blanket the viewer in this experience that they were in a safe place and that they were about to receive some really high quality information.

[00:31:36.285] Catherine Eng: But the seals themselves are really beautiful and a lot of thought went into those and as a designer, the logo design and all of that, a lot of thought goes into those and it's one way to encapsulate really the persona of the tribe, you know, of the nation. And there's sort of really a lot of visual information there so it's nice to be able to see them all together and there's a power to that.

[00:31:55.340] Kilma Lattin: It's a real big deal. Like the tribal logos, you know, how do you present yourself to the world? Because we're a sovereign nation. What do we want our flag to say? Those logos go on our flags. We're nations. And so for us, it was a communal, we, you know, our tribe as a whole, the general council, as they call it, the general membership, you know, they voted on that saying, this is how we want to represent our flag. I know that other tribes go through that same process. So when you see a tribal flag, I mean, it's like a flag of a nation. You know, like you think of the American flag with the 50 stars. There's a reason for the red, white, and the blue and the 50 stars. And we all know the history. Well, it's like that for tribal flags too, because we're representing our entire nation. So a lot of thought goes into those. So when you're surrounded by that, you're surrounded by those entire communities.

[00:32:37.501] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you each think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:32:46.926] Kilma Lattin: You want to jump in on that first?

[00:32:48.486] Catherine Eng: Yeah, no, sure. Well, I do think that immersive realities have a great potential for changing hearts and minds as far as understanding not only history, but even current events and culture. And I think to understand how Things came to be the way they are and to understand where someone is coming from you have to sit with them a little bit and you have to spend the time. People are hardwired really to remember the physicality of being with someone, what they said, what they did, the order of the conversation. Those kinds of things, you know, I mean, reading and watching videos and so on, it's a relatively new construct in the history of humanity. And I think there are many more neural pathways set for, you know, how you felt, how things smelled. I mean, that's one of the things that we did with our tent, too. It's like, you know, the smell of the fabric and the wood. It's very subtle. We didn't go crazy with that. But certainly those kinds of things can evoke a response. And I do think that storytelling If there's any way we can use more of our senses in storytelling, it will make a difference and it will make the types of stories that will change people's minds and help them to understand.

[00:33:51.605] Kilma Lattin: So I began flying attack helicopters in 2004. That's almost 20 years ago. I flew the Apache helicopter and we had a monocle over our eye. It was a one inch by one inch TV screen and they were displaying data. So as we're flying the helicopter and launching missiles and talking on the radio, and we were flying over territory, we were also being fed information through a monocle, and we were getting wind speed, direction, position, heading, armaments. We were able to get a lot of information through that eyepiece. And so I am just so excited for when company X, I don't know who, but when they release a wearable technology that's gonna give both of my eyes information as I go through my day, my day-to-day, and I'm able to absorb information, I'm telling you, it's very powerful stuff because when we're flying helicopters and we're getting fed that information, it just makes you so much more situationally aware. It depends on how you use it, right? Everybody uses it differently. But for me, if I'm able to be fed information as I cruise through my day, I'm going to be so much more informed. I'm just looking forward to that day when I can put a pair of glasses on and just cruise through my day and get as much information into my brain as possible. I'm so excited for that.

[00:34:59.032] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:35:03.599] Catherine Eng: I guess it was sort of addressed a little bit earlier on, but to Kilim's point about having these layers of information kind of inform you and situate you in these environments that you go through in your daily life, how different our lives would be, honestly, if we were able to understand the legacy of the places where we are. There's a tendency in this country right now, in the here and now, there are container stores everywhere. Every city has the Walmart, the Target, the Best Buy. And these are stores that are just plunked down no matter what the landscape is or was. And certainly there is a reckoning coming, and I think that it would be a wonderful way to have people really understand, well sure, you know, you can do that. But there are things to know about this particular place, things to know about ethnobotany. There are things to know about the flora and the fauna, the environment, the weather of these places and how other civilizations dealt with it. And certainly as it relates to being better stewards of the land, you know, it has many, many implications for that. So we're really excited about that too.

[00:36:02.836] Kilma Lattin: The only thing, yeah, so what I would say is, you know, we want to inspire people to do things and think about things differently. So as founder and CEO of Our Worlds, I encourage all viewers to check us out, look for us on social media, ourworlds.io, see how we're doing things, and then see if you can incorporate our model into how you're doing things to see if, you know, we can continue to change the world and make our digital future a better place.

[00:36:23.902] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Kelma and Catherine, first of all, congratulations on your win at the South by Southwest EDU and also on the premiere here of the Choctaw Code Talkers. And thanks for taking time to unpack it all and give a lot more relational context of what you're doing. So thank you.

[00:36:36.288] Catherine Eng: Thank you so much for the opportunity to tell our story.

[00:36:38.730] Kilma Lattin: Yeah, same. I was hoping for an opportunity to be able to voice all these things that have been going in my head. So thank you for giving us a voice and a platform to do that.

[00:36:47.612] Kent Bye: So that was Kilman Lattin, founder and CEO of Our Worlds, as well as Catherine Ng, a co-founder and CTO of Our Worlds. And they were premiering the piece Choctaw Code Talkers 1918. So in the interest of trying to get all these interviews out in a timely fashion, I'm going to skip doing my more in-depth details, and I'll probably save that for a broader discussion that I have with other folks to kind of unpack my overall experiences at South by Southwest in a concluding episode. So, that's all I have for today, and if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a list of support podcasts and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue bringing you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com. Thanks for listening!

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