Summit Addresses Indigenous Digital Divide in Australia

Online heritage databases, an indigenous app to connect peoples worldwide, a network of recycled digital devices, and an Aboriginal digital social enterprise are just some of the responses to the focus of a recent summit in Australia, “How can we co-create a nation where all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can thrive in a digital world?”

The Indigenous Digital Excellences Agenda (IDEA) Summit took place at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern (Sydney), Australia from 27-28 of June 2013. Around forty emerging and established indigenous thought-leaders from around the country attended to discuss, prototype, and share ideas to increase indigenous engagement with digital technologies in Australia.

IDEA Summit Participants. Photo courtesy of NCIE

IDEA Summit Participants. Photo courtesy of NCIE

Although they make up a small part (2.5%) of the Australian population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders face big challenges: rapid cultural deterioration, language loss, social marginalization, and poor wellbeing indicators, varying from high incarceration rates to low life expectancy. But indigenous participants of the IDEA summit see technology as a tool to improve the future.

Participant and young Indigenous leader Peter Dawson said,

Over 50 per cent of the Indigenous population is under the age of 25. We are the generation that is using digital technology most so we should be digital ambassadors for our communities, getting the elders and our peers involved online and talking about the opportunities and what it can bring for us.

The event was a culmination of academic research, face-to-face consultations and a six-week online collaboration. Although only forty leaders attended the event, many more people around the world contributed to online discussions on how to close the digital gap in Australia. The IDEA team set up a Trello idea board (an online collaborative bulletin board) where users could add and comment on “cards” divided into four categories: Inspiration, Ideas, Focus and Prototype. Activists and indigenous peoples worldwide also contributed ideas via Facebook and Twitter under the hashtag #IndigenousDX. The @IndigenousDX Twitter account put out calls around the world asking: “What does digital indigenous excellence mean to you?” “What future technology is blowing your mind right now?” and “What is one thing you'd do towards Indigenous Digital Excellence?” The responses they received on Facebook and Twitter helped set the agenda and discussions during the intensive two-day summit.

Event organizers will further foster ideas presented during the summit at a Indigenous Digital Excellence Agenda incubation hub to be constructed at NCIE headquarters in Sydney in the coming year.

The initiative received a major boost when the Telstra Foundation, the philanthropic arm of a major telecommunications company in Australia, announced it will contribute $5 million a year to support the NCIE and Indigenous Digital Excellence. Ideas developed during the summit will form a key part of the “National Indigenous Digital Excellence Strategy” to be created by NCIE and the Telstra Foundation. They hope to implement the strategy beginning in 2014.

One of the facilitators, April Long, was quoted saying the summit focused on how technology could be used to protect indigenous culture, facilitate self-determination, and allow indigenous peoples to be “champions of their own stories.”

Aboriginal author and blogger Siv Parker wrote of the summit,

Thanks to digital communications, Indigenous people across the world are freely accessible to each other and to discuss the collective Indigenous experience… And technology enables a broader discussion and declarations around current national issues including Constitutional recognition, sovereignty, racial discrimination and land rights.

In particular, online video platforms have been a popular way for indigenous peoples to share their stories from around the world. Isuma.tv - an online indigenous video portal originating in Arctic Canada- has over 5000 films in 50 languages, many indigenous. IndigiTUBE - taking its cue from the video-hosting site YouTube – provides a space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders across the country to share their videos. iCampFire is another online service for sharing indigenous digital storytelling.

Negative affects of digital engagement were also addressed at the event – such as issues like cyber-bullying, which become important as new technologies infiltrate communities. The issue of cyber safety in indigenous communities received a boost this year when an Australian House of Representatives committee urged the national Parliament to look into issues of cyber bullying, digital cultural and policy issues for Aboriginal Australians. A recent government report from the Joint Select Committee on Cyber Safety found that cyber bullying via mobile phones is affecting both urban and rural Indigenous Australians. The IDEA Summit website featured a recent video campaign hoping to educate indigenous communities about cyber etiquette.

Below is a short video re-cap of the event, followed by the five core ideas that arose from the many discussions at the summit:

1.     IDEA Global : an online Indigenous marketplace for ideas, projects, events, skills and resources and could be described as an Indigenous combination of Kiva, Kickstarter, Etsy and SkillShare. The app seeks to cross national boundaries and connect with Indigenous people from around the globe.

2.     Kinship Indigenous Network : aims to reconnect Indigenous people to their families by providing an online network to appropriately store information about individuals and their family relationships. The core idea is to assist Indigenous people in finding their relatives through the assistance of digital technology.

3.     Doris : a playfully named Indigenous search engine that helps people find authentic Indigenous content and perspectives in innovative ways. Envisaged as a browser extension, the search engine would use filters and approval processes developed by Indigenous people and maintained though community legitimacy.

4.     Blaxess : aims to connect Indigenous people without digital devices to people keen to donate used devices. Beyond the transfer and reuse of digital devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets, Blaxess aims to develop a digital literacy program that supports the people receiving the devices and their communities.

5.     Blackfella Enterprises : an initiative aiming to commercialise traditional cultural knowledge sensitively and appropriately, ensuring that ownership and benefits flow to Indigenous communities. Through new digital social enterprises, elders and young people can work together to revitalise and strengthen culture and to bring economic independence. Customary medicine, benefiting from traditional knowledge developed over thousands of years, was used as an example for a potential traditional product that could be sold online.

 

To learn more about the Indigenous Digital Excellence Agenda, visit their website, follow them on Twitter or like their page on Facebook.

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