D-Lib Magazine
March 2002

Volume 8 Number 3

ISSN 1082-9873

Guest Editorial

Issues Regarding the Application of Information Technology in Indigenous Communities

Daniel E. Atkins and Maurita Peterson Holland
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Only indigenous people can consider their cultural values and decide what is appropriately instantiated in digital media. Only they can determine the degree to which they will participate in information technologies. These were conclusions drawn from a group of 35 of our professional colleagues invited to a meeting last summer to discuss the question: "What Are the Major Issues for Indigenous People in Creating and Accessing Digital Resources?"

The meeting, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, took place in Hilo, Hawaii [1], and the attendees included Native North Americans (Alaskan, Hawaiian and Canadian), Maori, Australian Aboriginals, Sami, Brazilian and African people, representatives from relevant cultural institutions and funding agencies, and academic experts in digital information research and technology.

Technology, preservation and networking were major themes of the meeting—all deeply embedded in concerns for cultural integrity. The group learned that indigenous cultures hold varying perspectives about digital artifacts and networking.

Indigenous cultures are rich, diverse, and precious. For those who seek and those who supply funding, technical assistance or other support, the trusting role of each must be negotiated and sustained. They may find strength in collaborating; they may also find very marked differences in their perceptions, experiences and needs.

While affirming the need for sensitivity in working with each cultural community, the Hilo attendees realized that a global approach is critical in considering the application of information technology in indigenous communities. They called for a meeting of representatives from indigenous populations of all nations, interested institutions of memory, digital library builders, and researchers to define a "grand vision." At present there is no global agency that provides a venue for this deliberation. Such an agency could also catalyze funding, the critical second step in building appropriate, sustainable, community-based digital environments. The successful application and diffusion of information technology in indigenous communities rests on these recommendations.


[1] To learn more about how the attendees engaged the question posed at the outset of the Hilo meeting, please visit the meeting website at <http://www.si.umich.edu/pep/dc/meeting/meeting.htm>.


Copyright © 2002 Daniel E. Atkins and Maurita Peterson Holland

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DOI : 10.1045/march2002-guest.editorial