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Indigenous Archives: Opportunities for Archival Access in an Information Society


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Indigenous Archives: Opportunities for Archival Access in an Information Society

  1. 1. Indigenous Archives: Opportunities of Archival Access in an Information Society Teague Schneiter IsumaTV
  2. 2.
  3. 3. Igloolik, Nunavut, Northern Canada
  4. 4. Potential clashes • accepted notions of intellectual property rights versus notions of ownership that are less focused on individual creator • dilemmas about making recordings of ceremonies available for research in mainstream institutions versus keeping content secret or sacred for community use • clashes between institutions managing collections that pertain to indigenous people versus indigenous self-management or sovereignty
  5. 5. Some interesting Indigenous Archives and Software Initiatives: • Mukurtu Wumpurrarni-kari Archive: • Plateau People’s Web Portal: • Ara Irititja: • Digitizing the Inuit and Aboriginal Media Archive:
  6. 6. Thank you!

Editor's Notes

  • Introduction:
    I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are standing—the Lenape Nation—and pay respects to their elders past and present.
    My name is Teague Schneiter and I’ve been invited here today by IASA to discuss issues of free and open media dissemination as they relate to the concept of indigenous cultural heritage preservation and access.
    Today I am just going to give a run down of some of the projects and issues related to indigenous digital archiving and access, and then we will have time for questions at the end.
    I’m an independent researcher who also works as an archives and social media consultant--and a kind of one-woman r&d department--for an Inuit media platform called IsumaTV, and specifically on a digital archiving project called DIAMA.
  • IsumaTV is the media-driven web portal and social-networking website of Montreal and Igloolik-based indigenous media organization Isuma.
    Isuma originally emerged out of a strong Inuit-filmmaking practice—Including three feature films made by all Inuit crews all their native language of Inuktitut, a filmmaking tradition that continues today. 
    Isuma been actively working for over 20 years to improve accessibility to and use of Inuit, Aboriginal and increasingly global Indigenous media for local and worldwide audiences and users.
    While we are still very much a production company, our projects seek to push the boundaries of distribution (for example, our new film was screened to a sold out audience in Toronto and simultaneously webcast to 2,500 viewers in more than 18 countries).
  • Our site is a platform of predominantly video, but also photographs, documents, blogs, resources and information around important issues such as climate change, mining, language, women, youth, elders, education, and Truth & Reconciliation.
    Basically we create, license, and collect Inuit and Aboriginal-language digital media. Our channel-based structrue allows users to view, upload, comment on, and share video, audio and text.
    IsumTV is a flexible distribution platform which offers indigenous-language media-makers customizable channels, high-quality streaming, podcasts and VOD in both SD and HD, for download and for screening. Users are afforded complete ownership and flexible control over how their content is presented, branded and used.
    Our drupal-based CMS also offers strong content-management services for channel administrators, including the capability for content to be restricted to certain users and channel members
  • Two years ago IsumaTV got funding from Canadian Heritage to digitize and upload film and video collections relevant to Inuit and First Nations in Canada.
  • DIAMA - an acronym for Digitizing the Inuit & Aboriginal Media Archive is a digital archiving project that in its first two years digitized, compressed, and uploaded over 400 hours of content since the early 70s.
  • This effort included the collections of native communication organizations such as Inuit Broadcasting Corporation & Native Communications Society of the Northwest Territories, as well as our own productions, and works from other independent filmmakers.  
  • While the funding for doing more digitization is currently unavailable, in order to get more content digitized, some of our Inuit staff in the North are beginning a new film project called Kingulliit, which has a goal of documenting the need for digital preservation of legacy objects in the North; including advocating for access to images of their relatives that were filmed since contact by anthropologists.
    Kingulliit will be our chance to develop a workflow to discover, search out, invite, collect, digitize and upload media materials such as home movies (8mm film and various formats of video) and family photos.
    Next month Zacharias Kunuk, one of Isuma’s founders, will be filming the process of going to Igloolik, Iqualiut, and Baker Lake communities, speaking to individuals as well as Nunavut funding bodies about the needs of their materials and the importance of collective memory based on visual materials. Meanwhile, myself and our technology director will building (borrowing code from existing projects) and designing the online participatory archive; hoping to create a model that First Nations and Inuit governments and tribal councils will look to and be able to repeat.
  • We were also recently entrusted with the job of repatriating the 16mm collection of anthropologist Bernard Saladin d'Anglure; films that document aspects of Inuit life since the 1970s.
    Thus Kingulliit will try to bridge the gap between museums and anthropologists and Native communities.
    Our prototype tools and services have the goal of being at once useful for communities who need content preserved, as well as archives and museums with audiovisual holdings who wish to digitally repatriate content.
  • I won’t have time to cover this in much detail, but as part of this project we are also developing a technology that allows remote communities that experience low-bandwidth and slow connections--insufficient to view video online--to view all the content from our site at high speed. This allows us to give access to anything that is uploaded to our site straight to people in remote areas at the same streaming capacity, something that by in large mainstream museums and archives either don’t even consider when they are increasing ‘access’ to material, or they simply don’t have the resources. If you want more information about this, I’ll be providing a link at the end.
    But I want to move on to some of the broader and more epistemologically complex issues, as the goal of me speaking here is to try to spur a dialogue amongst our nichey yet highly specialized group of moving image archivists about some of the concerns of indigenous archiving. I will only briefly be able to go over these, but the hope is that this talk will open up debate about how our community can best approach our content relating to indigenous groups. And the most positive result of this talk would be to come up with some creative or collaborative ideas for solutions, especially those related to funding and project partnerships.
  •  In my abstract, I mentioned that the recent emergence of what network theorists Manuel Castells and Jan Van Dijk have called information or network societies has created a paradigm-shift for cultural institutions such as audiovisual archives in the way that they make collections accessible in favor of creating more user-oriented and openly accessible collections via web interfaces.
  • Because of epistemological differences in the way indigenous cultures express, manage, and disseminate knowledge and information, web presentation of content (and the general over-valuing of universal access to knowledge) bring up a few challenges, and some potential risks. These include clashes between accepted notions of intellectual property rights versus notions of ownership that are less focused on individual creator; dilemmas about making recordings of ceremonies available for research in mainstream institutions versus keeping content secret or sacred for community use; and clashes between institutions managing collections that pertain to indigenous people versus indigenous self-management or sovereignty. Cultural protocols are now an increasingly acknowledged part of any kind of knowledge and information management.
    Though there are challenges to archiving Indigenous material, at the same time, these changes in network technologies and media-sharing open up opportunities for indigenous communities to have a stake in the creation of community platforms; enhanced understanding of archival material by user-created metadata; creating and managing ways of archiving and content that suit cultural needs; creatively solving some of the low-bandwidth and other tech problems that many indigenous communities face due inequities in financing for technological infrastructure.
  • I want to highlight a few case studies - indigenous collaborations with archival professionals, information scientists & programmers to come up with online and offline archives that are culturally appropriate and based on indigenous knowledge systems. These systems allow audiovisual resources to be easily shared online or offline via web-based technologies for community use.
    A few researchers, such as Ramesh Srinivasan, Sabra Thorner and Kimberly Christen have assisted in improving indigenous heritage through the creation of participatory archives, engaging and involving community members in both the creation of content and the design and protocols and architecture.
    Tribal Peace, Ari Irititja, Mukurtu and Plateau Peoples Web Portal are the projects pictured on the slide. While I am too time limited to go into any of these projects in detail, I just want to point out that collaboratively formed networks of this kind--around video-sharing, language preservation, and cultural heritage management specific to Indigenous needs--can be empowering and enfranchising; especially for indigenous groups who have been stripped of their rights to exercise culture and dispersed from their communities.
  • One of these projects--Ara Irititja (which means ‘stories from a long time ago’)--is a community-based digital archive and software initiative designed at the request of Pitjantjatjara / Yankunytjatjara (Anangu) in South Australia. Officially commenced in 1994 to repatriate ‘lost’ material for Anangu and make it available and participatory at the community and personal level, it has effectively drawn family and community members of all ages together around multimedia content. Their innovative software is presented visually, organized by indigenous standards, in native languages as much as possible, and protects and/or restricts access to private and sensitive materials, such as images of people who have passed away, and men’s and women’s business.
  • To further its reach, this year the Ara Irititja project is launching an open source server/browser-based knowledge management software that will be available for adaptation by other communities internationally for their specific needs. The purchaser of the license will have software development control enabling extensive changes to be made to the interface, to data entry fields and to functionality all according to the specific needs of the community. IsumaTV has a demo scheduled with them next week to see if we can start to build a partnership.
    For interested communities to make major adaptations to Ara Irititja, they of course need to have funding allotted to pay a programmer, train for community maintenance, and ideally to support members of the community, especially elders, to advise about cultural protocols. With the right support, communities will be able to make serious graphic and structural changes, as well as create individual ‘profiles’—currently under such headings as people, flora, fauna, places, events, activities, types of stories and storytelling (such as dreamtime stories, hunting or historical stories), but which can all be deleted, added and re-named to suit the needs of any community.
  • Though the original version of Ara Irititja was offline, the updated Ara Irititja software is web-ready, allowing communities to curate content for ‘open’ public access on the web (with permission control granted to senior elders), whilst sensitive content will only be available to community members where the software is running.
    Also added to the new software is the ability for archive users to annotate material, with text or even audio or video comments. This new functionality allows users to record their knowledge in their own words and language, taking the written word out of the equation, which has the potential to encourage not only knowledge about multimedia content, but increase the archive of video and audio material of endangered indigenous languages.
    • video tagging (with laso)
    • advanced search options with scrolling video ribbon
  • Ara Irititja--as well as Mukurtu, Plateau Peoples Web Portal and IsumaTV--are examples of the successful use web-based database technologies and custom information architecture to provide digital archives that foreground user-centered design, networking and sharing potential. They demonstrate how archiving projects can be productively aligned with traditional indigenous knowledge systems.
    These projects have emerged at a time when there is an increasing awareness on the part of cultural institutions that indigenous content belongs to its cultural owners, bringing an influx of repatriation efforts.
    However, for most communities, even though some mainstream institutions are making large-scale efforts to digitize indigenous content, the disconnect between the online material and its usability in communities, means that digitally repatriated materials are not across-the-board making it out to remote communities and in meaningful ways.
  • The increase in development of community-formed multi-media management platforms, and user annotation of material that suits indigenous knowledges, and lifeways is encouraging, especially because given the shortage of literary (i.e. non- media) resources among most oral Indigenous cultures/languages, media archives take on an enhanced need to be used by the people themselves and for their own survival, education and identity - not just preserved and studied for and by cultural outsiders. The torrent of digitization, open source software initiatives, and knowledge management projects provide a wealth of opportunity for creativity, transmission and the decentralisation of collections as well as the information they contain. However, thus far there are only dispersed and miniscule efforts relative to the wealth of content.
    IsumaTV believes the future of indigenous archives is in networking, partnerships, sharing and collaboration. In fact, we are working to pursue a partnership with Ara Irititja to license and adapt their software for use for our Kingulliit and DIAMA projects with Inuit and First Nations groups.
    The questions that remain unanswered, are:
    • How will we faciliatate the sharing of this content?
    • And how can we get funding to preserve and make accessible material before it is too late?
  • • While YouTube and Facebook might be the new norm for the well-connected, in Nunavut it still takes fifteen minutes to download a video clip. Additionally, narrow-bandwidth satellite services set strict caps on monthly quotas; so viewing just a few media files quickly exhausts a subscriber’s bandwidth allotment for the month - a familiar story to some of you here. So, we decided not to wait for the government to lay fiberoptic cables!
    • In Igloolik, a town of about 1,500 in remote Nunavut territory, the maximum download speeds of 762 Kilobites per second at $400 a month are 65 times slower than Montreal or Ottawa at five times the price. And unfortunately, low-bandwidth northern communities, already 500 times behind cities like Ottawa or Montreal in cost-per-kilobyte, see the gap grow every year.