ORIGIN is a workforce development and technology company based in Thunder Bay, Ontario that is innovating connection to self, connection to career, and connection to Indigenous culture. ORIGIN recognized the role it could play in reconciliation by giving Indigenous peoples greater access to new career opportunities and by giving non-Indigenous peoples greater access to Indigenous culture direct from knowledge keepers across Canada. ORIGIN’s main tool is virtual reality, offering giving each new individual a direct, non-cost-prohibitive learning experience. “Indigenous perspectives are what drive our company,” says project manager Charmaine McCraw. “Great teachings open people’s eyes, minds and hearts to new pathways. We started our company to enable Indigenous people to succeed in whatever path they choose.” ORIGIN first launched in 2009 with a program called ENABLE. “ENABLE focused on literacy, upgrading, and life skills development. The program graduated 80 Indigenous individuals from eight different communities; with 150 students wait-listed,” says McCraw. “ORIGIN realized the value of individual training plans, holistic approaches, and the importance of identity and family supports.” As ORIGIN quickly identified, each individual has their own style and ability that allows them to learn in specific ways. Four years later in 2013, ORIGIN improved upon their process by integrating heavy equipment simulators into their learning regimen. One of the first steps toward virtual reality, these simulators allowed each user to gain first-hand experience in a specific job and determine themselves whether or not that career was suitable for them. “In 2017 our company travelled to 35 different First Nations, bringing this tactile learning tool and assessment process direct to them,” says McCraw. This work has made ORIGIN a leader in Indigenous economic reconciliation. Their other reconciliation efforts include working as Procurement Champions for the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and working to advance Indigenous interests as members of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce. Today, ORIGIN’s focus is the development and outreach of its ImmersiveLink system, a tool used in 900 schools across Ontario. ImmersiveLink gives libraries access to virtual reality resources on career studies and Indigenous cultures. “It was built to inspire a connection to the land and all we have to learn from it,” says McCraw. “It was built to recreate powerful and positive Indigenous stories to reinforce awareness and understanding.” One of the primary ways to access and use the ImmersiveLink system is through a virtual reality headset, “providing compelling, real-life experiences” according to McCraw. “Our system is accessible with standalone Oculus Quest headsets and is consistently updated with every new content experience we capture.” As recently as February 2020, ORIGIN donated 45 VR headset to Skills Ontario to widen the number of potential students that could benefit from the ImmersiveLink system.
“Great teachings open people’s eyes, minds and hearts to new pathways. We started our company to enable Indigenous people to succeed in whatever path they choose,” says McCraw. ORIGIN decided it needed to capitalize on this emerging technology after seeing what it was being used for and what potential remained. “The use of VR is mainly associated with gaming and roller coaster rides,” says McCraw. “While these are good uses of the tool, we have begun to use it for a completely different purpose: connection.” The traditional career exploration market of job fairs, resumes, and online postings is not always the best way to recruit long-term employees, particularly for indigenous job seekers who are not used to that environment. “ImmersiveLink is a way to connect and ensure understanding and learning through an individual lens.” All of this comes from ORIGIN’s First-People-First philosophy, as well as the company’s willingness to follow the values taught by the Seven Grandfather Teachings. But ORIGIN’s impact goes beyond improving the lives of individual Indigenous people. In addition to providing their services to anyone who is interested in a hands-on introduction to a new career, the company also educates nonIndigenous people about Indigenous experiences. “Unexpectedly, we have discovered that ImmersiveLink can be used by our non-Indigenous learners and industry partners as a diversity and sensitivity training tool,” says McCraw. “Participants are exposed to Indigenous experiences in a way that’s impossible with normal instruction.” Anyone has the chance to put on a VR headset with an ImmersiveLink system and learn a little more about the different indigenous communities around them. ORIGIN has been an Indigenous-focused company since their founding. They have continually improved to provide the best possible employment opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike. “The TRC and demand for industry to increase Indigenous employment has impacted our company, but you have to remember we were doing this work well before that time,” says McCraw. “Canadians want to learn about Indigenous culture and Indigenous people want to connect to economic opportunity. Our tools work together to strengthen our approach and journey to reconciliation in Canada.” McCraw’s message to other entrepreneurs and innovators working to build the Indigenous economy is to keep focused. “Keep your vision clear, make decisions that make sense in furthering your company mission. Make sure you know who you are partnering with and that you want to work with them so that values and ethics can be agreed upon in the beginning and expectations can be met by all parties involved.”