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  • 15 Jun 2018 7:42 AM | Deleted user

    Guest Blogger: Jacquie Gilson, Doctor of Social Sciences

    I just finished a thought provoking online course called Reconciliation through Indigenous Education and it inspired me to reflect upon how the field of interpretation could contribute to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. I humbly admit to knowing very little about this topic, but I wanted to share my key learnings from the course and hope that this diablog will spur some conversation on the topic within the field of interpretation. I have very little experience in working with Indigenous peoples and look forward to hearing from others on this topic.

    I’ve summarized my learnings into three R’s of Reconciliation: Respect, Relationships and Reconsidering, and have incorporated ideas we covered in the course, as well as examples that I know about from my over 30 years’ experience in interpretation.


    Any reconciliation efforts interpreters are involved in have to show respect to individual Indigenous people, as well as respect for their different cultures. One way to show respect is by starting interpretive programs with an acknowledgment of the local nations’ connections to the land where the program takes place. We did this in 2017 in Lake Louise and my interpreters admitted it felt somewhat awkward, but that it was very worthwhile. Incorporating Indigenous peoples’ languages in place name signs also acknowledges their connections to places. While I have trouble pronouncing them, I love seeing the Indigenous place names on the signs in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. I think respect could also be shown through working closely with Indigenous peoples to develop interpretive programs together and not merely inviting them to do a dance or other potentially superficial demonstration. I’ve been told that Elders and Knowledge Keepers are usually very happy to be invited to share their stories at a local site; what amazing and authentic first-hand experiences this would provide for visitors! And I think it would be even better if the visitors were encouraged to share what the Indigenous peoples’ stories mean to them.


    As a non-Indigenous person, a.k.a. a settler, I realize that I need to develop relationships with local Indigenous people before working with them to offer Indigenous interpretation for visitors to the Lake Louise area. I have some experience with Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site and am impressed with what they have achieved; through an agreement with the local Metis group, authentic and very popular Indigenous interpretive programming is offered at the site. My colleague in Jasper National Park has just been involved in setting up an Indigenous peoples interpretive advisory committee and I’m excited to hear more as they get it going. And I noticed online that the Sitka Tribe in Alaska has entered into a collaborative partnership with the US National Park Service to co-manage the site’s interpretive program. I’m sure there are many other great examples out there and I’m also sure that they didn’t just happen overnight, but are a result of much time and effort put into relationship building.


    This is the toughest and most important of the three R’s.
    Before interpretation can contribute anything to reconciliation, the history of sites need to be reconsidered and tough questions asked, such as “Whose story is this?” and “Where did this information come from?” In many cases, stories being shared in interpretation will need to be repositioned to include multiple perspectives. For example, many site histories start with settlement, when the stories should be starting with use of the land by the Indigenous peoples.

    I have been experimenting with a new approach to interpretation known as Dialogic Interpretation and I think it offers an ideal means for considering multiple perspectives. For example, Yellowstone Forever, the nonprofit group associated with Yellowstone National Park, engages clients in dialogue on the controversial topic of bison on the landscape. Visitors debate the issue from various perspectives including those of the local ranchers, tourists, wildlife conservationists, state, park and First Nations groups. Interpretation that aims to provide visitors with different viewpoints, rather than the one single perspective of the agency, seems ideally suited towards reconciliation efforts.

    Reconsidering the content and how it is shared in interpretation may help towards reconciliation; however, more importantly, interpreters and others need to rethink the predominant colonial viewpoint that North American society is based upon. For Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to be equal partners in interpretation, roles need to be reassessed. Colonials or settlers, like myself, have to learn to share the stage and be less paternalistic in our approaches to interpretation.

    For the past few years I have been excited to guide my interpreters in using interactive approaches in interpretation, i.e., dialogic, participatory and other forms of visitor-centred interpretation. I believe that these collaborative techniques are ideally suited to reconciliation; they encourage sharing and respect for all participant’s views and take the interpreter from the “sage on the stage” to focusing on “facilitation for inspiration.” I don’t think interpreters need to STFU but need to be “the guide on the side”; this means being visitor-centred, making room for all stories, and involving people in hands-on and meaningful experiences that will encourage them to make up their own minds about the place and what it means to them.

    Upon reflection, I believe there are many ways interpretation could contribute to reconciliation and the few ideas I have presented here merely scratch the surface of possibilities. Indigenous partners need to be treated with respect, relationships need to be nurtured, and sites’ history and stories need to be reconsidered from multiple perspectives, and on top of it all, the purpose of interpretation and approaches we use need to be reconsidered.

    I’d love to hear from others- How do you think we are doing with reconciliation through interpretation and what else could we be doing?

    Photo Credit: Parks Canada

    About Jacquie:
    I live in Canmore on the traditional land of the Tsuu T'ina, Niitsítapi (Blackfoot), Stoney and Ktunaxa.

    I completed my doctorate in 2015 after studying the concept of inspiration in interpretation. As the Interpretation Coordinator with Parks Canada in Lake Louise, I strive to combine theory and practice to improve interpretation and help connect visitors to place in ways that are meaningful to them. In my spare time I run my own consulting company, InterpActive Planning and Training. 

    Additional Resources:
    The course I took was called Reconciliation through Indigenous Education and was offered by edX in conjunction with the University of BC. For more information see  https://www.edx.org/course/reconciliation-through-indigenous-education.

    I also recommend this awesome resource: 

  • 17 May 2018 2:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Wendy Niven

    What is a Heritage Interpreter, or Interpretive Guiding? I looked it up to see what was out there as far as definitions go, and came away with:

         “all the ways in which information is communicated to visitors to an educational, natural or recreational site”

         “the art of helping people explore and appreciate our world”

         “a structured approach to non-formal learning specialised in communicating significant ideas about a place to people on leisure”

         “any communication process designed to reveal meanings and relationships of cultural and natural heritage to the public”

    And, as the definitions vary, so does the quality of the people delivering it. While there are a lot of amazing non-certified interpreters out there, what really qualifies a person to call themselves one? How does an employer know they are hiring the best? How does a client or visitor know they are getting a quality product? That’s where certification comes in.

    My own journey as an Interpretive Guide began with certification. That’s because I work in a Canadian National Park and Parks Canada recognized many years ago that it needed to establish a level of proficiency for people who called themselves guides in national parks to ensure their visitors were safe and had a quality experience. The two main organizations that provide the certifications that Parks Canada recognizes are the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) and the Interpretive Guides Association (IGA). The route I chose was with the IGA.

    "To be certified as a Professional Interpreter means to have a achieved a level of knowledge and proficiency that one can really hang their hat on."
    Photo credit: Interpretive Guides Association

    It all began in 2016. Recently laid off from a job as a visitor services and communications staffer for Parks Canada, I was floating around wondering what I should do next when a friend invited me to guide for her company that upcoming summer. Since I lived in Jasper National Park, and that’s where the guiding company operated, I needed to become certified as an Apprentice Interpretive Guide with the IGA.

    I wasn’t unfamiliar with the IGA. I had done their basic certification in 2012 in order to work as a backcountry wrangler for my horse outfitting friend. With my Parks Canada background, the basic certification process wasn’t difficult for me, and I expected the Apprentice Interpreter certification to be similarly simple. Boy was I surprised!

    The Apprentice Interpreter course introduced me to a whole new way of looking at guiding. It’s where I learned how to really be a guide - an Interpretive Guide. There is a process to it. And a level of professionalism that’s required to do it well. What I also discovered that first summer of interpretive guiding was how much fun it was. And how lucrative it can be if you are good at it.

    The next step on my journey was to complete the IGA’s Professional Interpreter certification. To be completely truthful, the primary reason I signed up for the course was simply to improve my knowledge and skills. I didn’t think much about the certification itself or its value. It wasn’t until I did the exams that I got it. This was no walk in the park. It takes practice, effort, knowledge and skill to become accredited at this level.

    To be certified as a Professional Interpreter means to have a achieved a level of knowledge and proficiency that one can really hang their hat on. It means you have invested time, energy and effort into honing your skills and becoming really good at what you do. It means you have taken it on as your profession and your means of earning a living.

    Being able to call myself a Professional Interpreter, and to back up my claim with certification from a recognized, credible organization has improved my confidence, helped me command a better price and allowed me to join a growing community of people who call Interpretive Guiding their career.

    It has been a fun journey - and it’s not over yet.

      Wendy Niven is a freelance interpretive guide, web developer and outdoor enthusiast based in Jasper, Alberta. 
    To learn more about the Interpretive Guides Association and their certification programs, visit www.interpretiveguides.org.

  • 9 Apr 2018 11:10 AM | Deleted user

    By Don Enright

    For those of us who work as front-line interpreters, the chance to sink our teeth into an interpretive writing project can be equal parts exciting and terrifying. It can be so very rewarding to think that your work will be seen by hundreds or thousands of people; that it will be professionally edited; that it will have a graphic designer’s touch; that it will be printed on fine-quality paper or beautiful high-pressure laminate.

    But there are big, scary challenges with interpretive writing, and one of the biggest is trying to define the scope of the project you’ve been given. Everybody has a different definition of what interpretive writing is, and you need to ask a lot of probing questions before you take on the work. Here’s what I try to ask:

    1.      By interpretive writing, do you mean interpretive planning? Do you want me to identify your target markets for you, define your project goals, set out a thematic framework, and figure out where this writing project fits in with your greater vision and mandate? Because that’s a lot of work, and it would be really helpful if you had some of that work done ahead of time.

    2.      By interpretive writing, do you mean research and writing? And if so, do you expect me to track down primary sources? Or do you mean word smithing, where you have a subject matter expert put together a set of source documents for me to write from? Because A is really time consuming, where B can be done on the quick.

    3.      By interpretive writing, do you mean writing and graphic design? Am I expected to lay it out, choose the fonts, find the images and so on? And who will do the fabrication and installation? Because that’s a lot of legwork, too.

    Fortunately, you have a few tools at your disposal to help you take the bull by the horns and avoid wasting time faffing about with uncertainty.

    First, ask for a project brief. It’s a standard project management tool that includes the goals or benefits of the project, a project timeline, an analysis of risks, constraints and assumptions, a task list and a responsibility assignment matrix.

    “Now wait,” I hear you saying. “My boss would sooner sing opera on a unicycle than produce a project brief for me.”

    I hear you. Managers sometimes have trouble assigning work clearly and efficiently. I don’t know why it’s such a problem to them, except that for a certain type of manager, parting with useful information somehow compromises their power and control.

    So if that sounds like your boss/client, you’re going to have to write that project brief yourself. It doesn’t have to be onerous—it just takes a little time (and trust me, time spent clarifying a project at the beginning is going to be time, tears, and sleepless nights saved on the other end.)

    As a freelancer, I do this all the time with my clients: “Would you like me to write up a little proposal and timeline? Then you can tell me how it fits in with your needs and schedule.” Boom. Done.

    In that proposal, I’m always careful to write it in such a way that it highlights a) work I like to do and do well;  b) timelines that I can actually achieve and c) contingencies (a little extra time and money) for things going wrong.

    In my proposal, I break the work down into phases—even for a small project. It allows me to get things delivered early (thus thwarting my own procrastination), and to get feedback early. And I always subdivide each phase into three sections: a) input- what I need from my client; b) output- what I produce for you and c) outcome- what that effort is supposed to accomplish. I build in a feedback period after each phase, so the client (your manager) can sign off on the work before I get too far into the following phase.

    If I’m expected to work as part of a team, I always include a responsibility assignment matrix. These are magical tools, particularly if you have a client/manager who has trouble delegating specific tasks to specific people. Simply write a task list down the left side of a table; put the team members across the top of the table; then for each task, assign each team member a role. These matrices are sometimes called RACIs, because in the matrix, someone is (R)esponsible for delivering the task; someone else (A)pproves the task; someone else is (C)onsulted, and perhaps someone is simply (I)nformed. Everyone has a role, and nobody is confused. (One of the most intelligent rules of project management is that you never assign the same task to two people. Can you imagine how much easier your life would be if your boss always followed that rule?)

    I realize this sounds like a lot of left-brain, Type-A work for a writing assignment that should be creative and artistic and fun. But I find that it’s worth it. The creativity flows a whole lot better when I know exactly what is expected of me, and the feedback sessions tend to be a lot less stressful when I’m confident that I’m delivering exactly what is being asked.

    I wish you every success with your interpretive writing project.


    Project briefs:

    Google “project brief” and “creative brief” (not quite the same but related and useful.) Here are a couple of resources—




    For technical jargon, species names, capitalizations, abbreviations and the like, you need to get to know Termium and its accompanying style guide, “The Canadian Style.” These may be the most under-used writing resources in Canada, and they rock.



    About Don

    Don Enright is a freelance interpretive planner and writer who works with parks, museums, and other heritage organizations to help them fulfil their missions and increase their relevance. Follow Don through his blog at www.donenright.com, or contact him at donenright@donenright.com.

  • 12 Mar 2018 10:36 AM | Deleted user
    By Lisa McDonald

    If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. - David Sobel

    Parents and other role models provide the strongest influence in creating a child’s capacity to show empathy to other living things including birds, mammals and insects. (Mary Gordon, 2001)   

    In our staff training we emphasize that every interpretive team member plays a vital role in connecting children to nature. For the last 3 years our team has made it a goal to connect children to nature through their sense of touch.  

    Touch involves our emotion, thinking, sensing and motor systems.  It is so critical to human development that it is the first of our senses to develop in the womb.  When children touch-especially with the fingertips and palms of their hands, they begin to form an understanding of the world around them.  Recognizing the importance of touch we’ve planned our education resource acquisition to connect young hearts and minds.

    We began by supplementing our traditional teaching tools of photos, skulls and bones with small, realistic, whole animal toys. We’ve connected with several artisans that make life-like, soft-bodied, cuddly animal replicas through Etsy, the e-commerce website focused on handmade items.   We encourage even the youngest children to hold, manipulate and closely examine them, and yes, we encourage connecting through play. Items begin to look a little rough and ragged but we consider wear and tear tremendously encouraging and indicative of educational success!!

    Stories can also create powerful emotional connections.  When we encourage a child to think about how another person or animal might be feeling, we are helping them to become kind, considerate and caring.  (Mary Gordon; 2001) Communicating thoughts and feelings through face to face contact is a very important part of being able to understand the thoughts and feelings of another human being.  (Michele Borba, 2016).

    The lemurs in our new walkthrough exhibit sparked positive emotions in our guests and we wanted to take that connection further by creating a large, colorful, community conservation storybook to guide family conversations about lemurs and the forests they live in.  Messages of love, not loss were key to our theme.

    Our community conservation story is told by fictional Malagasy sisters, Tandra and Felona.  They share impressions of their life in Madagascar and we see that they have a mother, father, a baby sister and aunties.  They talk about their love of their home, lemurs and forests. The story, told through illustrations, words and photos is fun, simple and happy.

    Time is so precious to young families on the move.  A key learning for our team has been to lead play and storytime where guests have shade, water and comfy seating. Families and friends can rest, relax and relate while our teams are making inspiring connections with the children.

    Our next step is measuring the effectiveness of our techniques-something that our colleagues at St. Louis Zoo  and Seattle Aquarium are exploring. We think we’re on the right track. If you have any advice we’d love to hear from you!

    Lisa McDonald is the Manager of Visitor Engagement and Interpretive Planning at the Calgary Zoo.  She's currently exploring ways to connect with audiences through empathy development,  conservation psychology and nature play.

    If you’d like to read more:

    Mary Gordon, Roots of Empathy, 2001.

    Michele Borba, Unselfie, Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in our All-About-Me World, 2016.

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