Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Interview with Creator and Owner of Monigarr.com

 

Monica Peters showing her VR Environ "Father Sun VR", which is currently in development with Oculus

I had the privilege to sit down with Monica Peters, a software developer raised in Akwesasne. I was welcomed into her office located across from Kastowa Gas Station, upstairs from DaniLeigh Thompson's Library on Rt 37, in Hogansburg. Monica is currently working on "Father Sun VR" as part of the Oculus Start Program. Father Sun VR is a Virtual Reality (VR) environment created for the Oculus Rift device that is inspired by the Haudenosaunee creation story and Onkwehonwehneha. Virtual Reality (VR) is an interactive computer-generated experience taking place within a simulated environment, that incorporates mainly auditory and visual, but also other types of sensory feedback. Father Sun VR takes you in a virtual Sky World (not 'The SkyWorld') and has never been seen in dominant society media before; even the best story teller would be amazed.

Oculus is owned by Facebook and provides various VR devices (Oculus Rift, Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR). The Oculus Launch Pad program accepts applications each year and chooses about 100 applicants from all over the world to participate in learning how to attract investors and improve their software development businesses. Monica's application was chosen to participate in the Oculus Launch Pad and the Oculus Start program this year. If Monica's VR work impresses the Oculus team and judges, her VR software will receive more marketing, technical and business support from the Oculus team. You may see Father Sun VR pop up on the advertisements of your Facebook page in the near future.

One thing I realized very quickly is the passion Monica has for the work she does. As we began speaking more about her past, it became clear why she is doing what she does.

Here are some of the questions I asked Monica.

What exactly do you do?

MG: Well, I am hired by different companies to build their software. I get paid pretty good money to do it. I take all that money and I reinvest it into things I like to do, like Mohawk language revival and endangered language revival. I do this with android (a mobile operating system developed by Google, designed primarily for touchscreen devices such as smartphones and tablets) and iOS (a mobile operating system created and developed by Apple Inc. exclusively for its hardware. It powers the company's mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch).

I also run a Facebook group for Mohawk language with a few thousand people from all the Mohawk communities. I had to stop running most of the Mohawk language programs and software I had before because it was getting to be too much work. What we desperately need is an ISO code, which is a whole niche in itself. A linguist would have to apply for a new ISO code for each Kanienkeha dialect, and communication machines (computers, phones) would be able to support the different dialects from all the Mohawk communities; instead of mashing all our dialects into one dialect. There is so much we could do to revive the language. I have been trying for years to have linguists and fluent speakers do what they can to help, but most of the time they say, "why don't you do it," but that's not my expertise.

I have so many ideas of different things we could do with QR codes too. (A QR code - quick response code - is a type of 2D bar code that is used to provide easy access to information through a smartphone.) It's great to see those signs up outside the businesses but people can't hear them. But with the QR codes I create you could just point your smartphone at the sign and it would say it on your phone.

What is a VR device?

MG: What VR is to me, is like dreaming while awake, time travel. Onkwehhonwehneha Virtual Reality is quite different from the dominant society's world views too. So, when I say time travel, dream while awake, I am describing feelings from my own perspective, not a scary English society view of those. I hope that makes sense.

(A more technical definition - virtual reality is an interactive computer-generated experience taking place within a simulated environment, that incorporates mainly auditory and visual, but also other types of sensory feedback like haptic. This immersive environment can be similar to the real world or it can be fantastical, creating an experience that is not possible in ordinary physical reality).

I wouldn't recommend doing too much VR right away, some people can get motion sick and I don't recommend VR devices for anyone under 13. It can affect the brain's ability to process spatial recognition and no one knows what the consequences are with that. Anyone with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia and any mental illness that affects reality should not use VR devices at any age. Even people who are new to it, and are older, like us we grew up without it, so our brain is wired to experience things a certain way. So, older people may get sick the first few times using a VR device. The brain is an amazing thing, you can train yourself, like pilot training, to be able to use the VR devices without becoming sick. Myself, I'm immune to it. I had to create a crazy insane VR to make myself sick, for my own research to understand what people might feel if they get sick from VR experiences. I don't want to make games that will make people sick though, that's not cool.

What is something you would like people to know about you and what you do?

MG: I think it was back in 2011, my memory isn't that great. I was on my death bed and ready to go. For some reason I'm still here. Every morning I wake up, and I'm grateful that I woke up and I can still do what I do, like building software. The brain is an amazing thing, the fact that I am able to continue the work that I do, and I am able to teach people how to do it, too. After all that happened, I decided I wanted to teach others how to code and build software. I also work with people from the community, helping them to build different things for their businesses through iOS and android.

What advice would you give someone interested in the same career?

MG: The one thing I would like people to know is that you don't have to be a genius or rocket scientist to do what I do. The big thing is to not be afraid or care if people make fun of you. If you want to make software, go for it, if that's what you want to do. If not, don't feel bad because it is not for everyone.

What things can we expect from you in the near future?

MG: In the next few weeks I will be traveling to Vancouver to teach a workshop (VR for Endangered Languages Revival) , talking about the different ways to revive endangered indigenous languages. I am going to show the different ways VR, apps and software I do can benefit them and help to revive their languages. I used to do the same thing here with Kaniehkeha, back in 1990's, but back then people weren't too happy about it, probably because they didn't understand what I was trying to communicate to them; I have since been working on improving my communication skills. Now, fluent speakers are starting to see the value in what I do and how it can help.

Monica Peters and her companion Emmie the Magnificent Dog Beast.

What kind of services do you offer to the community right now?

MG: Right now my main focus is on iOS and android and building software for iPhones and android devices. If someone ever needed help with building a website, of course I would help. My prices are negotiable, depending on what they want from me. If it's something I can teach in a day the price would be different then something that would take a week. Normally my prices range from $55 to $250 to teach people how to build their own software.

Monica Peters is located in Akwesasne and is more than happy to pass her knowledge and skills on to others. If you would like to access her services, you can contact her at monigarr@monigarr.com, or on her website MoniGarr.com. or call her at 650 201 2417.

 

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