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Indigenous people need control over digital tech

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by Inga Vesper

Indigenous people need more support to become tech-savvy and deal with the threats digital technology can pose to their culture, a conference has heard.

Digital technologies such as smartphones and drones can bring problems as well as advantages to indigenous communities, an expert panel said at the World Conservation Congress on 5 September. Without in-depth knowledge of the scope of such technology, indigenous people may allow themselves to be misrepresented and their knowledge to get exploited, they said.

One issue is the struggle to keep sacred sites a secret in a world where posting photos and publishing blogs can reveal their locations. Often, well-meaning researchers compound the problem when they digitise photos of cultural sites or traditional knowledge for scientific purposes, says Mikaela Jade, the founder of Indigital Storytelling, an Australian company using digital technologies to preserve aboriginal culture.

“Companies supplying indigenous people with services should have a cultural protocol to clarify who are the custodians of their data,” she told SciDev.Net. “We need to know, can we take our data back and can we destroy it if it is causing a problem to have it in the public space?”

These issues are compounded by the fact that many indigenous communities still lack access to the digital world, the event heard. Having better access can encourage them to become more assertive in protecting their culture, suggests M’Lys Flynn, a digital mapper working with indigenous people in Australia.

The panel, which took place on 5 September in Honolulu, Hawaii, acknowledged that digital technology can enable indigenous communities to claim rights over land and better preserve traditions. Having access to GPS mapping, social media platforms and other communication tools is also crucial, to make their voices more prominent in global discussions, the panellists agreed.

The best way forward, says Roberto Borreo, a consultant at the International Indian Treaty Council, is for communities and digital companies to work together. The Taino people in the United States, for example, helped a start-up game company to develop Arrival: Village Kasike, a mobile-phone strategy game set in pre-Columbian Central America.

Taino representatives were involved throughout the development process, ensuring the game represents their culture correctly and gives a balanced view of their lives.

“Some game developers just appropriate Indian culture, they use our stories and symbols without any benefits to the communities,” Borreo says. “They represent us as violent or primitive, and we do not need to encourage any more racism or violence against indigenous communities.”

With better knowledge of digital technologies, indigenous people will also be in a position to choose which technologies they want to let into their lives, Jade says.

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.


Author: Inga Vesper

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AgasatyaBipsJeff Hasan ManihutuluLeandro P Recent comment authors
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Without technology, they have been established for thousand years with no wars, no poverty, no hunger, and so on. I think we need to learn from them how to live more interactive as human. It’s great that we have the technology to connect with people across the globe instantly, but there’s also a sense of disconnection.


I agree with @Leandro P and @Jeff Hasan Manihutulu

Maybe they’re lack of digital technology – which is an urban technology, but they’re not lack of their own technology. My associate once told me, a good technology is a technology that able to tackle problems and supports the life of a community based on its surrounding context (compatibility). Context of the urban, rural, and especially remote area are different. So, I think we’re the one that need to learn from them to become “tech-savvy”.

Jeff Hasan Manihutulu

Let Indigenous people have their own way to live and learn, “modern” technology advancement would lead them to confusion. Regarding that, my opinion means to embrace them rather than underestimate. Instead, due to surviving, they know better than urban people. They have their own technology to encounter their wilderness.

Leandro P
Leandro P

Interesting discussion, but there’s a couple things that i want to discuss and questioned. Copying from the above mentioned: “….We need to know, can we take our data back and can we destroy it if it is causing a problem to have it in the public space?” If the problem is occurring then who’s going to responsible for that? Indigenous people need more than that to ensure their cultural cultivation. A friend told me that in the data management ethics; dissemination of research data is not always necessary, because there are a lot of things that considered sensitive and private,… Read more »