The University of Winnipeg



Meet UWinnipeg Indigenous Summer Scholar Ben Roloff

Exploring soundscapes for Six Seasons of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak project

head shot of Ben Roloff

Ben Roloff (photo supplied).

Ben Roloff is spending his summer exploring soundscapes, and loving it, as part of the production team for the Six Seasons of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak project.

“This project has allowed me to merge my interests in music, literature, Indigenous history, and education in a way I never thought possible,” he said.

Roloff is working closely with Dean of Graduate Studies and Professor of English Dr. Mavis Reimer.

Reimer is part of the Six Seasons of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak partnership p, which received a $2.5 million Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Grant in 2017. The central goal of the project is to move forward the ongoing grassroots work of reclaiming and revitalizing Indigenous languages, histories, and knowledges among the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak (Rocky Cree).

At the heart of the project is the development of a series of historical picture books authored by storyteller and knowledge keeper William Dumas. The stories are rooted in oral histories held by the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak and supported by archaeological field and collections research, and historical archival research.

The picture books are accompanied by digital picture book apps designed to engage readers and listeners with Rocky Cree language, history, and knowledge, and by teachers’ guides designed to facilitate the use of the materials in school classrooms.

The first app, Pīsim Finds Her Miskanow launched in fall 2019. A revised version of the picture book was released by Portage and Main Press in June 2020. 

Collecting soundscapes

Work has now begun on the second app in the series, and Roloff is developing the script, researching the effective use of sound, and collecting soundscapes.

“My research to date has raised many considerations regarding soundscape composition, such as regional and era accuracy, cultural authenticity, narrative audio construction, and the practical development process,” he said. 

Learning the correct terminology to classify layers of sound within a natural soundscape; geophony, biophony, and anthropophony, served as an important breakthrough for Roloff.

“Identifying these terms may seem relatively insignificant, but doing so has greatly helped further my own research and inform the types of questions I can and should be asking,” he said.

When COVID hit, he was concerned about the impact this might have on his summer plans, but studying and researching remotely has been easier than expected. Classroom workshops that were initially planned in person, have been redistributed throughout the summer as weekly video sessions.

“I particularly appreciate this new format, as it allows us to raise new questions relevant to our ongoing research in each week’s workshop, and we have access to many research databases, libraries, and contacts who are more than willing to help guide our research or answer our questions via email, phone call, or video conference,” he said.

Roloff began studying English and Indigenous Studies at The University of Winnipeg in spring 2019 after completing a Bachelor of Music at Brandon University. He is entering UWinnipeg’s Faculty of Education’s After-Degree Program in fall 2020.

“I consider myself a lifelong learner,” he said. “Although I am unsure what my own education may look like after graduating from UWinnipeg, the Indigenous Summer Scholars Program is certainly opening the door towards graduate studies.”

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