Digitally barefoot archivists

Digital archives of photos, films and recordings are springing up in Indigenous communities, and some of them are even Getting Funding, hurrah! The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving a million US dollars to the Northern Territory State Library System:

“a 2007 Access to Learning Award recognizes the Northern Territory Library for providing free computer and Internet access and training to impoverished indigenous communities… The award honours the innovative Libraries and Knowledge Centres (LKC) Program, which provides communities with free access to computers and the Internet, and helps Indigenous Territorians to build digital collections of their culture through the Our Story database.”

They’ve got Knowledge Centres at Milingimbi, Wadeye, Peppimenarti, Umbakumba, Angurugu, Pirlangimpi, Milikapiti, Barunga, Ti Tree, and Ltyentye Apurte.
…..As well, “Microsoft, a Global Libraries initiative partner, will donate US $224,000 in software and technology training curriculum to upgrade the organization’s 300 library computers.” [Weep for us Mac users]
The Our Story database is an adaptation of the classic Filemaker Pro Ara Irititja program developed by the artist and historian John Dallwitz for the Anangu Pitjantjatjara.

Ara Irititja, a project of the Pitjantjatjara Council, commenced in 1994 when it was realised that a large amount of archival material about Anangu was not controlled by or accessible to them. This material was held in museums, libraries and private collections. Items held by private individuals were often at risk of being damaged or irretrievably lost. To date, a major focus of Ara Irititja’s work has been retrieving and securing such records for the benefit of Anangu and the broader Australian community.

The great advantage of Filemaker Pro was that it was basically off-the-shelf and basically fairly easy for people to use. There have been elaborate proposals, but going beyond glamour to making things work in remote communities is a very large step.

Partnerships with libraries are a good way to go – Peter Austin alerted me to “Project Naming” (via a post by Kerim at Savage Minds) – in which Library and Archives Canada are working with Inuit youth from Nunavut to identify people in photographs. It’s a very interesting website, which is available in Inuktitut (get the Pigiarniq font), English and French.

On a smaller scale, in Tennant Creek, Trisha Narrurlu Frank, Michael Jampin Jones and Alison Alder worked hard to create an archive of photographs of Aboriginal people of the region from old sources from missionaries, anthropologists, and so on, at Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Cultural Centre, Tennant Creek. They were stuck as to how to archive them – what they (and a lot of places) needed was a barefoot digital archivist – someone who could set up a simple system for them to store the material and catalogue it and make it accessible to the right people. Along came Kimberly Christen and Chris Cooney, who then started working on a browser-based digital archive Mukurtu Wumpurrani-kari Archive for them, “built around Warumungu protocols for the distributing, viewing and reproducing cultural knowledge and material”. Kimberly is off to trial it this month. Check out Long Road for updates.

1 thought on “Digitally barefoot archivists”

  1. Yes, but most of Bill & Mel’s computers will be classed by the Feds as ‘publicly funded computers’under their new regime and thus be subject to the outrageous and overlooked controls on end users of these computers – it won’t be just access to porn that’ll be suppressed, but also the right to express certain views and the manner in which they are expressed. I don’t have the legislation to hand but the relevant Part should be easy to find in the NT NER Act at say Austlii by now…this aspect of the intervention has received little attention to date but if it starts to cross against the good works of the richest couple in the world…well, look out, all sorts of things could happen. An easy fudge would be for Bill & Melinda to give their money directly to Aboriginal people – but I suspect Mal wouldn’t like that. And what does the Australian Crime Commission have to do with any of this anyway? Outrageous, foolish and doomed for tears all around. Poor fellow my country.

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