Imagine if Toronto were reclaimed by nature. This Indigenous futurism VR experience takes you there

Lisa Jackson's Biidaaban: First Light isn't just aesthetically impressive — it's about a future where Indigenous values, language and land are all integral to survival.

Lisa Jackson's Biidaaban sees a future where Indigenous values, language and land are all integral to survival

(Lisa Jackson)

Last night, I stood in Nathan Phillips Square and looked up into the evening sky engrossed by the galaxy of stars. They twinkled gently while the ethereal hum of frogs and crickets sang in chorus around me. I broke bread with the Creator and Indigenous communities speaking Wendat, Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) and Anishinaabe (Ojibway). And then a turtle walked over my foot.

No, this wasn't a hallucinogenic trip or a lucid dream — I had just stepped into filmmaker Lisa Jackson's VR experience Biidaaban: First Light.

Watch the video:

Lisa Jackson's Biidaaban: First Light

5 years ago
Duration 4:09
Step into the Toronto of the imagined future in the Indigenous futurism VR project.

The project is part of what Jackson calls "a rising tide of Indigenous futurism." As she explains: "What Indigenous futurism does is it looks to break through that tendency to stereotype everything that's Indigenous as stuck in the past and incapable of moving into our present or our future."

To create the world of Biidaaban, she worked with 3D artist Mathew Borrett, whose "Hypnagogic City" pieces were a large source of inspiration for the design of this future Toronto. Digital agency Jam3 and the National Film Board worked their magic to help make this virtual world a reality. But while all of these combined talents brought an incredibly clean and believable aesthetic to the project, it isn't merely an exercise in technical prowess — it's about a future where Indigenous values, language and land are all integral to survival.

"Given that half of Canada's population that's Indigenous lives within cities, I was like, 'Well, why don't we think of cities as Indigenous?'" Jackson says. "Cities are filled with vibrant Indigenous cultures, and so I've centred Biidaaban in the middle of a city and claimed space in that way."

(CBC Arts)

This is not an apocalyptic vision — it's a hopeful one, graced with Indigenous symbolism like the Sky Woman, Grandmother Moon, teachings from the Thanksgiving Address and an open narrative that provides the viewer space for their own interpretations. While this was her first official VR project — and she just finished shooting an IMAX film, so she won't be abandoning traditional filmmaking anytime soon — Jackson is excited by the possibilities VR brings for sharing diverse stories.

"I've done so much mentorship with Indigenous youth and emerging filmmakers. For me, it would be great to see that community and other communities we haven't heard from, take their imaginations, use this technology to create new worlds that we can all experience. That's what I would like to see my piece provoke out in the world."

(Lisa Jackson)
(Lisa Jackson)
(Lisa Jackson)

Step into Biidaaban: First Light at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto Sept 18 - 24; The Hangar at the Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver Sep 29 - Oct. 2; imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto Oct. 17 - Oct. 21; Planet in Focus Festival in Toronto Oct. 26 - Oct. 28; and Naisa North Media Arts Centre in South River Oct. 4 - Nov 25.

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists on Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT) on CBC Television.


Lucius Dechausay is a video producer at CBC Arts, as well as a freelance illustrator and filmmaker. His short films and animations have been screened at a number of festivals including The Toronto International Film Festival and Hot Docs. Most recently he directed KETTLE, which is currently streaming at CBC Short Docs.