Nature and Biodiversity

Indigenous peoples teach the world First Nations wisdom through technology

If we seek the perspectives of Indigenous peoples and take into account their deep connections with the earth, ways of being, law and cultural practices, we de-risk the process of commercial fishing, extracting minerals and other commercial activities.

If we seek the perspectives of Indigenous peoples and take into account their deep connections with the earth, ways of being, law and cultural practices, we de-risk the process of commercial fishing, extracting minerals and other commercial activities. Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter

Mikaela Jade
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Indigital
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  • Augmented reality and other technologies can amplify Indigenous storytelling.
  • Harnessing technology plays a role in cultural connection and provides digital skills for the 21st century.
  • Today, 476 million Indigenous people in 90 countries are excluded from digital futures.

Efforts are being made around the world to give Indigenous peoples a voice, to empower them to share their wisdom and stories and to ensure First Nations are involved in building our digital futures. The marginalization from dominant economic, political and legal systems many Indigenous peoples face mean our world views are routinely overlooked by modern society, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

In Australia, schoolchildren and educators, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are having their eyes opened – quite literally – to the Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing. After listening to stories from our Elders, they are learning how to code, they are creating in 3D, and they are designing their own augmented reality experiences. Children are playing and experimenting with technology, donning virtual reality headsets and being taught about the deep connection that Indigenous peoples have with their Country. Country to us is the landscape of our home, it is the waterways, the people, the plants and trees and the animals.

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Combining the past and the future is exciting and fun for youngsters, but it also has a very serious purpose. Such engagement is critical for conserving and passing on 80,000 years of human knowledge. It is also a crucial first step in closing the digital skills gap and preparing Indigenous peoples for the job opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution..

This endeavour matters more now than ever - and not just for the Indigenous peoples

Today, there are more than 476 million Indigenous peoples living in 90 countries across the world, who together account for 6.2% of the global population, according to UN estimates. These peoples have unique cultures and ways of relating to others and the environment. But history has left a legacy of structural inequality and disadvantage. Coupled with lack of access to technology and skills education opportunities, this means many are being left out of the conversation in the development of future technologies. If we want safe and equitable digital futures, it is imperative Indigenous peoples have a seat at the table in the development of these technologies.

And if today’s Indigenous schoolchildren are to thrive in the decades to come, it is essential that they learn how to use the digital tools that will drive the global economy in the 21st century. Importantly, after learning basic coding and computing skills, many of these youngsters now see a pathway to a range of careers in science, technology, engineering, and maths, providing them with a vital entry point into the digital economy.

At the same time, the oral traditions and cultures of our ancestors are at risk of being lost, so mobilizing the power of technology and putting it in the hands of young people is therefore a smart way to tackle both these needs.

This journey started with a vision I had when working as a ranger in Australia’s beautiful national parks. As a Cabrogal woman of the Dharug-speaking nations, I felt disconnected from my own cultural heritage when I was growing up and at the same time was sure there must be better ways of reconnecting.

What if you held a device up to a cultural place or an object or an artwork and our elders appeared in holographic format to tell you the story and explain the meaning of that place or object?

It seemed a far-fetched idea, but I was determined to make it work. It has been an uphill struggle to overcome technical obstacles to make the system work in remote locations without an internet connection. But thanks to support from some key players in the technology industry, we have finally got there.

Thanks to the power of modern computing and the ingenuity of smart devices – like Microsoft’s Hololens mixed reality headset – we now have the technological tools to truly reflect the way Indigenous peoples see the world. But we still need to take things to the next level to encourage the hundreds of millions of Indigenous peoples around the world who have yet to tap into this resource.

While this will require a quantum leap in investment, the potential pay-off is immense. We have an opportunity to close the digital skills gap for a whole generation – and teach the non-Indigenous world about the wisdom of First Nations. Businesses throughout the world have an opportunity to collaborate with Indigenous peoples to better their business practices.

There is increasing public pressure to protect our environmentally sensitive regions and limit resource development. Consumers are demanding a collaboration between traditional custodians, scientists and other stakeholders. If we seek the perspectives of Indigenous peoples and take into account their deep connections with the earth, ways of being, law and cultural practices, we de-risk the process of commercial fishing, extracting minerals and other commercial activities.


How can digital technologies help deliver the climate goals?

In an era of accelerating climate change and mounting threats to biodiversity, Indigenous cultures have much to teach the wider world about protecting the environment. This is an issue that needs to be embraced broadly. Indigenous peoples are not the only ones with ancestors. All of us, whatever our background, should think hard about what our descendants will think of the world we leave behind.

• Mikaela Jade is a Schwab Foundation Social Innovator of the Year 2022.

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