The Ohlone Augmented Reality Tour: Exploring the Story of Native Americans on Santa Clara University’s Campus

Shows two figures in modern clothing viewing an Ohlone village with traditional tule houses, made out of tule reeds, and other Ohlone going about daily activities such as cooking, chatting, and hunting.
Two visitors exploring an artist’s rendering of a traditional Ohlone village in augmented reality. Illustration by Eric S. Carlson

March 9, 2023, Santa Clara, California

Professors Kai Lukoff (Computer Science and Engineering), Amy Lueck (English), and Lee Panich (Anthropology) from Santa Clara University have received the 2023 Whitham Family Collaborative Scholarship Award for their interdisciplinary research project. With the $30,000 award, the team plans to develop an augmented reality (AR) tour of the Santa Clara University campus that tells the story of the Ohlone, the Native Americans who have been caretakers of the land for thousands of years. Inspired by alternative walking tours, such as the race and slavery tour at the University of Alabama, the AR tour will offer visitors the opportunity to experience the past, present, and future of the Ohlone in new and thought-provoking ways. Through holding up their phones, visitors can interact with around 20 different stops on the campus, including a life-size 3D model of traditional dwellings pre-colonization and the tribal flag superimposed atop a flagpole on the campus. The tour will be developed using 8th Wall WebAR and LightShip VPS by Niantic, the creators of Pokémon Go.

The AR tour has the potential to reach not only the campus and tribal community but also the many visitors, including thousands of California school children, who visit the university campus each year. The interdisciplinary team is working closely with Native community partners to create the tour.

This collaborative project is a rare example of truly interdisciplinary research that can contribute to breakthrough research and social change. The team plans to use the insights gained through this process to create “The AR Toolkit for Social Justice Tours,” a guide and set of resources that will empower educators and storytellers worldwide to create alternative tours that challenge traditional narratives.