Bridging the (Digital) Gap: Aboriginal and Scientific Knowledge of Biodiversity in Northern Australia

Project Contributors: Helen Verran, David Turnbull

Several groups of Australian Aboriginal Peoples are seeking ways to use digital technology (computers, digital cameras, sound recordings), in particular contexts, to keep their own languages and ecological knowledge systems strong. The project “Biocultural Diversity: Elaborating Theoretical Issues for Communities and Policy Makers”  is one of several related projects that were conducted in 2003-2006 within the Indigenous Knowledge and Resource Management in Northern Australia program (www.cdu.edu.au/centres/ik/ikho)me.html), coordinated through the School of Australian Indigenous Knowledge Systems at Charles Darwin University. This program aimed to support and develop indigenous databases that maintain and enhance the strength of local languages, cultures and environments in Northern Australia, by means of research on how people are creating collective memory with computers in indigenous communities in Northern Australia. The project dealt specifically with ways to assess biodiversity by drawing on Aboriginal cultural knowledge. It addressed the challenge of how to devise forms of data collection that enable different knowledge traditions (indigenous and western scientific) to work together. The database TAMI (Text, Audio, Movies and Images, www.cdu.edu.au/centres/ik/db_TAMI.html) stores and manages data for indigenous peoples’ use. TAMI is a cataloguing type of software that provides a visually based system for people to manage their own digital resources for perpetuating collective knowledge traditions. The database system adheres to the principles and practices of indigenous knowledge production, is designed to be useful for people with little or no literacy skills, and encodes no assumptions about the nature of the world or the nature of knowledge – instead, it is the user who encodes structure into the arrangements of resources and metadata. The users themselves become the designers as they bring together resources, then group and order them, and create products, such as DVDs and printed material. The project worked at the interface between academic research and engagement in policy formulation and activism for indigenous peoples’ rights.

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