I’m so glad to finally be starting this blog. I’ve been very interested in Indigenous initiatives in a variety of cultures for a long time, and when I started an Open Knowledge MOOC [Massive Open Online Course], it seemed an ideal time to explore those interests. I have written up a number of posts for the purpose of this course that will showcase my trial and error process of understanding and exploring the ideas, solutions, problems, and ongoing discussions surrounding Indigenous communities and cultural protection, preservation, and emerging technologies.

A bit about me: I’m a graduate student in Library and Information Studies in Vancouver, BC. My name is Becky. I have a great deal of enthusiasm, and sometimes a lack of technical skills (this was meant to be a video blog – that will be work for another day). As I I am a born and raised Canadian, most of my information will be related back to how these processes, technologies and more could affect First Nations communities, as I am more familiar with history and political background here. However, I am interested in more global concepts of Indigenous knowledge initiatives, and if anyone reads this and has comments/ thoughts / criticisms/ contributions, I would love to hear them.

Looking forward to posting more,



Audio-Visual Media and Indigenous Communities

Videos are one of the most popular – and most powerful – ways of disseminating and discussing information. It has been used in some wonderful ways to showcase Indigenous communities for documentaries, re-mixing, and preservation.

The first video that comes to mind for me is a music video done for the song “Cups” (original in 2012 done by Lulu and the Lampshades, remade by Anna Kendricks). The song is performed by Berens River School in the Berens River First Nations community in Manitoba. The effect is beautiful, and it shows some of the issues with reservation life in Canada.

Open source video software is fairly common, with some breakdowns of different options available on various websites. This one, which is called “A Quick Guide to the 5 Best Open Source Video Editing Software” was one I found particularly helpful for beginners, as it runs through some format options as well.

Examples of indigenous conservation through videos is extensive, but an excellent place to start is the National Geographic “Enduring Voices” video and image section. As I sort through more options, I will update this page of the blog.

As a quick aside, I also wanted to bring up an article that was published in The New Yorker on November 17, 2014: “Could a Video Game Help to Preserve Inuit Culture?” The article is worth a read for the content alone, but if there is anyone interested in making their own video game, there is open source software for that too! “How to Make a Video Game (Experience Not Required)” looks at a few open-source and affordable options.


Indigenous Languages

Indigenous languages worldwide are suffering from the long-term effects of colonialism, assimilation, and population decimation. About 50% of the world’s languages are facing extinction because of these threats and more, and Indigenous communities are, by far, the biggest victims. National Geographic’s “Enduring Voices” project showcases the state of language extinction worldwide in this map, which serves to underscore how huge of an issue this is.

While I have been peripherally aware that this was an issue for a long time, this summer I had the opportunity to go to the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, BC, Canada. They opened a new permanent exhibit called Our Living Languages. It focuses on First Nations populations in BC, their languages, and has an interactive map that shows you the population of each Nation, and an estimate of how many members can still speak their language. Very few of those estimates exceeded 5%. It also showed that British Columbia is home to over 203 First Nations communities and well over a dozen distinct languages – almost 60% of the Indigenous languages in Canada. The compounded cultural loss is unimaginable.

Language is a personal identifier, so much so that some, such as French, have had governmental bodies put in place to regulate additions to the language, in fear that it will be homogenized. The loss of Indigenous languages worldwide should be treated just as seriously.

After starting this blog, I wondered about open access software for First Nations languages that would help members of those communities maintain that cultural connection. There are several journals and studies that are available in parts of the world, such as the Language Conservation & Documentation Journal from Hawaii, and the Pangloss Collection based out of Noumea in New Caledonia. The Pangloss Collection is interesting as it is an archive of language examples from around the world which have been made accessible by the public. It focuses on Oceanic dialects, and only Acadian [French-dialect] and Inuktitut have been catalogued from Canada.

Which brings me to the “Living Tongues” project, started in Chile and Peru around 2010. This is the basis of the “Enduring Voices” project discussed earlier, and the project has been focusing on language conservation through technology for several years. Their “Adopt-A-Language” section allows you to donate a specific language group you would like to support. They have also had success with projects such as Chamacoco Talking Dictionary, an online resource that allows you to search for words in either English or Spanish and hear them spoken by a native speaker for that region.

Another project that doesn’t necessarily focus on language, but certainly could impact that goal is Indigitization, a University of British Columbia initiative that supplies First Nations communities with a toolkit for the digitization and preservation of audio recordings. While it doesn’t feature language preservation as an outright goal, it might be a great fringe benefit.

However, I could not find language-specific toolkits, which is a project that I would love to see come into play in Canada, as well as elsewhere around the world, as soon as possible. I think that toolkits offer a degree of control and empowerment that having a project like “Living Tongues” come into a community and do the documentation doesn’t allow. Moreover, when a community can take resources and use them themselves instead of relying on a third party, there is less risk of feeling obligated to make those materials available openly when they may not want to. Furthermore, with the “Living Tongues” program, I could not find any documentation that says whether those materials were archived with the organization or with the communities, where as a toolkit would leave no doubt as to the ownership of those materials.

Higher Education, Open Access, and Indigenous Studies

Scholarly interest in Indigenous Cultures has been around for centuries, but over the last few decades it has become both more prevalent and less paternalistic (although arguments can absolutely be made that there is plenty further to go – as evidenced by a scandal last year at UBC during which an inappropriate chant was used during frosh week and spurred a closer look at indigenous awareness programs in universities).

Most universities in Canada have an Indigenous Studies/First Nations Studies program, and they are also common in areas with similar colonial histories, like Australia, New Zealand, the USA, South Africa, and South America.

While languages are absolutely taught within these programs, that will be discussed in a different post shortly. [EDIT: see that post here!]

However, open access courses on Indigenous histories and culture can be a bit harder to find. Luckily, they are growing in popularity, and several are currently available/have been available recently/ or will be available soon.

  • Australia-based Open 2 Study has a MOOC entitled Indigenous Studies: Australia and New Zealand that began this past October and focuses on Maori, Aboriginal, and Torres Straight Islander histories, languages, issues, and more.
  • The University of Toronto put together a MOOC that debuted on Coursera in 2013 called Aboriginal Worldviews and Education that looked at how Indigenous knowledge has been affected by Western educational systems, and how assimilation, treaties, provincial education, and residential and boarding schools.
  • Art + Reconciliation was an “RMOOC” [I believe the r is for Reconciliation, but am looking for a confirmation on that] done through Thompson Rivers University, and later continued as a Summer Program at UBC. It features Aboriginal Activist Art, and was a series of events and projects rather than a linear course. While the RMOOC is no longer running, the website has a great deal of information and some wonderful artwork.
  • Reconciliation Through Open Education is a MOOC put together by Dr. Jan Hare, a Professor in Indigenous Education at UBC, and Sara Davidson, a PhD student at UBC in Language and Literacy. It will focus on indigenous education initiatives, primarily in Canada and Australia, and how important those are to reconciliation. It will be run through the Harvard/ MIT EdX website, and will begin January 2015.


There are also a large number of journals devoted to Indigenous Studies, and some of them are open access.

  • Project MUSE has some open access resources, which can be accessed by selecting the “only resources I have full access to” button on the sidebar.
  • The International Indigenous Policy Journal is more business/governmental perhaps than academic, but all of its articles are open access, and it is an excellent resource.
  • The International Journal of Indigenous Health is another open access journal that focuses on Indigenous content, and it is peer-reviewed and fully edited, which resolves some of the concerns around legitimacy that are voiced about open access texts. It is supported by the University of Victoria in Victoria, BC, Canada.
  • The Journal of Indigenous Social Development focuses on the Indigenous people of Hawaii, and is supported by the University of Hawaii at Manoa through their Social Work school. It is an excellent resource, and has a great deal of relevance for indigenous communities worldwide.
  • MAI Journal – A New Zealand Journal of Indigenous Scholarship is published by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE). It focuses on Maori and Oceanic issues, and is funded in part by the University of Auckland.  They also publish AlterNative which has a more global perspective.

This a selection of what is available, and all of these resources are ones that I have looked over and look forward to using in the future. I will update with another page as soon as I compile another list!

Open Access, Music, and Indigenous Communities

One of the largest areas for collaboration and re-mixing, popular culture has a massive impact on society. Open access resources, including journals, music-mixing software, video-editing software, and more, can help communities create their own content and resources that reflect their heritage and ever-evolving culture.

As with any open access initiative, the idea is to open up new avenues of creation and experimentation to make new possibilities. Open access can be about preserving the cultural heritage of an ethnic group, but it can also offer opportunities to showcase the rich contemporary culture of those groups. For example, Tanya Tagaq is an Inuk throat singer that has won national awards and international acclaim. Traditionally, Inuk throat singing is performed by two female singers, who work off of one another. Tanya has taken her talent with this medium and set it against contemporary style bands to create a wonderful, haunting blend.

Tanya Tagaq’s Animism album trailer can be viewed here. A short biography about her can be found here via the CBC.

There is any number of studies that have been done that show that having cultural representation in popular culture has a huge impact on youth in those communities, so when an artist like Tanya wins a major national award – such as the Polaris Prize in 2014 – it is a huge step forward for the cultural sharing and celebration of, in this case, the Inuk community. More importantly, while Tanya is the most recent and most famous example, there are many other artists who have done similar things in their careers.

Lucie Idlout is also Inuk, and incorporates throat singing as a complement to her lyrics. Her videos can be found here, and sales from her albums go to a women’s shelter in Iqaluit. 

There are any number of other musical artists that incorporate Indigenous language and contemporary and Western instruments and musical theory. Open access musical tools can help communities with little to no funding for these types of projects and software.

Included below are several excellent online open access tools, just click on the name of the resource to check it out!

Some great musical theory courses can be found at:

MIT MOOC courses in Music and Theatre Arts

Yale MOOC courses in Music

Open Music Theory website – a crowd-funded open textbook for musical theory.

More importantly, open access resources for audio recording are available:



There are also music sequencing free/open access software, like Milky Tracker (a bit unfriendly to those new to software, but has a huge range of compatible platforms and functionalities). Giada, designed for DJ’s as a portable plug-ing for sound looping, can also be used as a sequencer, drum machine, and live sampler.

Access to tools like these is fantastic for anyone wanting to develop musical ability, and to play around with their own talents and interests without needing expensive equipment. More importantly, resources like Giada and Audacity can also be downloaded for off-line use, meaning remote communities and individuals without internet access or with intermittent internet access can make use of them as well.

Open or Appropriate?

This post is a bit of house-keeping I wanted to start off with, as anytime someone is talking about a cultural community they don’t belong to, there can be some tensions.

One of the biggest questions in any initiative for Indigenous communities that begins outside of that community is whether it is appropriate. Open access movements are no different, and in many cases the term “appropriate access” is far more suitable.

Why? Many indigenous cultures have suffered throughout centuries, being subjugated, disempowered, discriminated against, and more. In Canada, this is a huge topic of tension – as it should be – and it means that misappropriation is a constant issue that must be addressed. I know that this issue has been on the news recently in other countries as well, such as the open discussion around feathered headdresses worn by music festival attendees.

It can be easy to dismiss concerns about misappropriation, as it can be done without thinking, or even as a misdirected show of respect or admiration of another culture. An excellent article that I found explained the difference between showing your interest in, or admiration for, another culture without taking an image or ideology that does not belong to you can be found here:  “Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation” by Jarune Uwujaren.

Cultural exchange, or cultural preservation, is a much better goal for open access movements when dealing with indigenous groups. Ensuring that the communities involved are the ones creating, directing access to, and providing any information about themselves is the most important aspect of that.

Some excellent further reading on Cultural Exchange can be found at:

  • The Provincial Health Services Authority of British Columbia’s Indigenous Cultural Competency Training Program ***[please note: this is not open access, as all net proceeds go to support the program, including resources, conferences, workshops, etc.]***
  • The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training resources. Intended to inform GNWT employees, their modules are available for public viewing and are an excellent basis.
  • The Aboriginal Construction Careers website offers a great deal of information on a variety of cultural tensions in Canada and how to work within them appropriately. Most of it is applicable to any industry. It also has a section on creating an Aboriginal Employment Initiatives. It was funded by the Government of Canada’s Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment Fund.


Some cultural exchange programs that focus both on inter-Indigenous and on Indigenous/non-Indigenous exchanges:

  • Canadian Roots – program works with both First Nations communities from throughout Canada, and with Universities and the YMCA to foster workshops, conferences, and exchanges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth.
  • University of Lethbridge [Calgary, AB, Canada], and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology [Melbourne, VIC, Australia] have a long-standing Artist in Resident exchange program that focuses on the artistic exchange of cultural influences from their respective Indigenous communities.

I’ll add more information as I come across it!