How can we leverage digital technologies to share knowledge and bridge the gap towards reconciliation for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians?

April attended the 2018 OECD Forum in Paris. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education at Central Queensland University and she is a is a proud Noonuccal woman of the Quandamooka nation from North Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah). 

Abstract

Digital technologies have provided individuals, communities and countries with opportunities to enhance their thinking, way of living and interactions with those around them. As the Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform (2018) highlights, ‘Digital transformation can contribute to reducing inequality and achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. Using this as a foundation, the following paper seeks to develop recommendations for how we can share and learn the Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and learning, through leveraging digital technologies to work towards reconciliation for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians. Digital technology can be the conduit towards greater preservation, inclusiveness and respect for Indigenous cultures. The focus of the recommendations will be the development of an educational app as a tool to preserve Indigenous Australian languages, share cultural history and knowledge, and provide learnings about the ongoing sustainability of our land. Paired with a focus on stronger partnerships between Indigenous communities and government, and improved access to digital technology and infrastructure, this paper identifies a real opportunity to break down barriers and build reconciliation between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians.

Context

According to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2018), the estimated national Indigenous population for Australia is 670, 000 (2.8%), which is accountable for 5% of the world’s indigenous population (OECD, 2018). This has increased since 2005, where 400,000 (2%) of Australia’s population were Indigenous Australians (Grey & Beresford, 2008). Despite this increase, Indigenous Australians continue to be marginalised by the impact of successive government policies towards Indigenous Australians; the dispossession of land; and a loss of culture and connection (Grey & Beresford, 2008). Hence, it is paramount for all Australians to support inclusiveness and build rapport in the preservation of our country’s oldest and richest known culture: the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, doing and learning. 

The initial thinking from the OECD’s (2017) project for the Indigenous economic development was a ‘place-based’ approach. This works to serve  Indigenous communities through balancing economic, social and environmental issues by harnessing the vision and resources of the community. Moreover, the OECD is also focusing on supporting the inclusion of Indigenous peoples and their communities by including Indigenous knowledge, values, and cultural practices to help drive regional productivity and employment growth. Key stakeholders of these projects are Indigenous entrepreneurs and community leaders. This allows for non-governmental organisations to integrate the decision-making processes at a local, regional and national level. The OECD has taken a bottom-up method with respect to its policy for Indigenous peoples. This style is inclusive and empowers Indigenous communities to shape decision making processes across different portfolios such as land, environment, skills and innovation (McDonald, OECD Forum 2017).

Current preservation and sharing of Australian Indigenous culture, language and stories

Presently, Indigenous culture, language and stories are being shared and preserved through the National Indigenous Television (NITV) SBS channel. The NITV channel showcases Indigenous producers and features content predominately for and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This is the main media platform available to 95% of Australian homes via free-to-air television and through a number of additional platforms including Foxtel, Austar, TransACT, Freeview and Vast (Viewer Access Satellite Television) (SBS, 2015). Additionally, Australian State Libraries are also involved in the preservation of Indigenous culture, language and stories. The State Library Queensland (SLQ) plays a lead role in serving all Queenslanders, through state-wide library services and partnerships with over 340 public libraries, including 23 Indigenous Knowledge Centres (IKCs). SLQ is a vital community resource providing a ‘knowledge bank’ and a place for sharing, learning, collaboration and creation (State Library Queensland, 2016).  In addition, the ICKs provide the community with access to information technology and devices, promote programs that encourage the capture and retention of traditional knowledge, culture and languages, and allow family history research and preservation of materials (State Library Queensland 2016). In understanding the current landscape of information and knowledge sharing, it is evident that there is a real opportunity to leverage digitalisation. It can further enhance knowledge sharing in an interactive way, as a means to further break down barriers and build reconciliation between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians.

We are living in a fast-paced world where digital technology connects us socially, which has a profound impact on our interactions and communications between each other (Saravanakumar, Sugantha and Lakshmi, 2012). In particular, we can use digital technology in various forms to support Indigenous Australians preservation of culture through storytelling within the classroom (Bernard, 2009), bush tucker foods education, and through teaching Indigenous languages. This can take Australia closer to improving the quality outcomes of sustainability and equality of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2018).

Policy Recommendations

The following recommendations are proposed as a means of bridging the gap between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians:

1.     Develop an Indigenous smartphone application showcasing items and topics of cultural importance.

2.     Building stronger partnerships between Indigenous Elders and communities and the Australian government. 

3.     Improve digital infrastructure and accessibility in remote Australian communities. 

Recommendation One: Develop an Indigenous smartphone application showcasing items and topics of cultural importance.

Digital technology and the use of a smartphone application (app) would be beneficial to the Indigenous Australian communities in rural and remote areas by providing access to mainstream services and connecting local ideas and issues to the global marketplace (Makata, 2002). The key principles described in the Education Council’s Strategy is for Indigenous Australians to have the same educational access, opportunities and outcomes as all other Australians (Education Council, 2015). This would enhance Indigenous Australian children’s skills and education through supporting Australian Standard English and improving the outcomes of literacy and numeracy skills for the emerging generation.

The development of a targeted app would be a practical solution to help share and cultivate awareness about items and topics of cultural importance to Indigenous Australians. In particular, it would be a way to educate youth about their history and identity, as well as maintaining this knowledge for future generations. For example, a section on bush tucker called ‘Deadly Bushtucker Foods’ could incorporate information on Indigenous foods available in that area, as a means to educate the broader community. This section may also include greater detail on local knowledge of native plants and food sources, sustainability of the lands, the connection of local bush tucker foods with stories, relationships to people and seasons, and general health and wellbeing. By documenting and showcasing the types of food - the ‘how, when and why’ they are sourced – the app could help build a shared understanding of culture and language between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians.

Another practical implementation would be developing a section on storytelling and knowledge of country within the app. By sharing stories of the local land and allowing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to impart their ways of knowing, doing and learning, the app will help enhance proper knowledge of sustainability of the land and build equality amongst Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. Furthermore, through communicating in this format, the language will be passed on and a relationship founded on understanding could be built. This would support Indigenous pride and connection to the land, traditional practices and beliefs, which, is critical to the reproduction of Indigenous culture, identity and language (OECD, 2017). 

Through the collation of this detailed cultural information and knowledge, the app would provide a key resource and source of connection for many Indigenous Australians. As they have a strong connection to the land and have a legal right, responsibility and recognition in managing natural resources (OECD, 2017), including this information in the app would highlight this obligation. Moreover, the app provides an avenue for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians to achieve outcomes against the ‘Close the Gap’ targets that the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers have agreed upon through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Target 4: Close the gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in reading and writing within a decade (MCEECDYA, 2014). As well as the United Nations goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainability Development (2018) including:

·      Goal 3: Ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages

·      Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. 

·      Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

·      Goal15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. 

·      Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all level  (United Nations, 2018).

In the first instance, it would be important to roll out the app in metropolitan and urban areas, which could iron out any issues and allow developers to amend content based on feedback. Data collected could be used to map a strategy for further roll out to rural and regional areas. Over a longer-term period, the aim would be to broaden the audience to cover all regional and rural areas where Indigenous communities are located and use geolocation to target app content relevant to that area. 

Recommendation Two: Building stronger partnerships between Indigenous Elders and communities and the Australian government.

The Education Council (2015) strategy suggests that ‘a meaningful relationship values community cultural knowledge, wisdom and expertise, whilst also demonstrating respect and trust’ (Education Council, 2015). As such, building meaningful relationships between Indigenous Australians is a key recommendation in this paper. Indigenous Australians need to work from the bottom up and move away from the current short-sighted and unsustainable funding initiatives within Indigenous communities. It is time to start fostering a relationship based on understanding and mutual respect (McDonald OECD, 2018, May). Building rapport and relationships with the custodians, Elders and community members of country will enhance our ability to listen effectively. It will allow governments and policymakers to harness important cultural information, whilst also encouraging interactions that serve indigenous interests, show awareness and respect, understand the complexity of Aboriginal culture, partnership, knowledge and understanding of cultural attitudes, beliefs, protocols and shared languages (McDonald, 2018, May). It is only through developing a respectful and mutual connection with Indigenous community members and Elders, that initiatives such as the proposed app in Recommendation One can be produced. 

Recommendation Three: Improve digital infrastructure and accessibility in remote Australian communities.

The current connectivity initiatives in rural and remote areas are NBN fixed wireless and Sky Muster Satellite (NBN, 2018). These services are spread out geographically over thousands of kilometres with the NBN currently helping to support more people to connect to the internet in geographically remote locations.

Unfortunately, in many instances, adequate connectivity is still lacking in these and presents a significant issue in disseminating any educational or cultural resources electronically. Furthermore, whilst Indigenous Australians may be able to purchase a low-cost hardware tool such as a phone, affordability overall for new technology is a challenge (Wyckoff, 2018, May). By providing adequate infrastructure and support, Indigenous Australians living in rural and remote locations will have access to mainstream internet services and could utilise suitable resources, such as the proposed Indigenous app, to improve health and education outcomes.

Limitations and barriers

There are several barriers and challenges to consider when trying to implement the proposed policy recommendations. 

This includes the distinct lack of trust between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians. This distrust has been created by a variety of factors, including the historical context of dispossession, assimilation and conflict (The First Australians, SBS). Taking a bottom-up approach to initiate discussions and build relationships is vital for the delivery of all three recommendations.

An additional barrier to implementation is the lack of knowledge of lost stories on country, as finding the traditional Elders and custodians to share local stories and knowledge is becoming increasingly difficult due to geographical dispersion and an ageing population. Many stories have been lost over time and these factors only further emphasise the need to act with a sense of urgency to develop a means to store the Indigenous knowledge of country.

There are also significant language barriers and a lack of translators needed to ensure the ongoing preservation and education of local languages. Given the number of diverse indigenous languages present within Australia, there are not enough translators who are able to translate stories, languages and knowledge into the app from Indigenous Aboriginal language to Australian Standard English. There is also a need for translators and elders in communities to work alongside Non-Indigenous people to share multilingual dialects, which can be a time-consuming and challenging process, especially if funding and time are limited. 

Conclusion  

It is paramount for all cultures to move into the technological age and to ensure that we can all share in the benefits. By harnessing the power of digital technology, this paper proposes a number of ways that Australia can help sustain and educate emerging generations about the oldest and richest cultures to date: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. This would also allow for Non-Indigenous Australians to increase their understanding of the deep connections and close relationships Indigenous Australians have holistically to the land, Mother Earth, animals, people, food and spirits (Nola, Milgate, & Bell, 2012). Digital technologies, such as mobile apps, provide the means for Australians to listen and learn stories that are told on a particular country and understand the significance Aboriginal people’s role of protecting and managing the land in the correct form. This paper proposes the development of an all-encompassing app that can be used to increase cultural awareness, understanding, Australians national identity, and most importantly mutual respect. In doing this, we can help to generate better outcomes for Indigenous Australians, as well as provide a tangible and engaging means to advance the evolving process of reconciliation.

 

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