Closing the digital gap

Consider the looming 2013 Australian Federal election through the prism of IndigenousDX.

IndigenousDX refers to Indigenous + digital + excellence.

‘Indigenous’ is obvious and ‘digital’ refers to computer technology, and both are combined in the pursuit of excellence for all it’s parts.

Indigenous excellence refers to a informally organized movement towards promoting a broader appreciation of capacity and achievement in the Indigenous community.

This may sit uncomfortably for some, not merely because they cannot fathom or are unfamiliar with the concept of excellence in the Indigenous context, but because it is more akin to arenas of less preponderance, such as sporting achievement.

Many would stumble over the words ‘Indigenous excellence’ – but it’s embraced enthusiastically by those working with young people, those working to change racist attitudes, those seeking practical reconciliation, and the list goes on.

Or is the struggle to embrace this clouded by other considerations? Does the resistance to floating ‘excellence’ tap into a reservoir of resistance to other Indigenous aspirations – the right to manage land, the rights to preserve and maintain culture, or to Indigenous rights in general?

It’s important to note that #IndigenousDX is an ideology and @IndigenousDX is a twitter account, under the auspices of the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence.

Just as some promote reconciliation between all Australian citizens, but are not all gain fully employed by Reconciliation Australia. Or people are avid fans of football, but don’t all cherish the Essendon Football Club.

And it’s relevance to the Federal election?

There have been very few unfiltered Indigenous perspectives in past elections. NonIndigenous commentators became accustomed to discussing Indigenous issues amongst themselves for what they anticipated was an almost exclusively nonIndigenous audience.

During this morning’s ABC tv show Insiders, for example, the observation ‘off the reservation’ was made. Even though the origins are North American in nature, consider if this expression was ‘off the Brewarinna mission’. I doubt that it would be bandied about so freely.

Thanks to digital communications, Indigenous people across the world are freely accessible to each other and to discuss the collective Indigenous experience. Or can for just an example, communicate with German people who reflect on their own history, when it comes to treatment of people regarded as outside the dominant culture.

The expression ‘off the reservation’ is less palatable to a Native American than the stuffed bird affixed to Johnny Depp’s head, who is dealing with negative criticism for his portrayal of Tonto in the new Lone Ranger movie.

Whilst chatting on the couch, amongst colleagues, are they mindful that amongst their audience, sit Indigenous people?

The viewing patterns of the Indigenous community – with the exception of NITV – are as diverse as the rest of Australia. But some shows can be viewed with the confidence that those appearing have not anticipated any Indigenous people will be watching.

Exclusion of Indigenous people has a long history and some have, it can be argued, vested interests in maintaining this.

Research institutes have histories of not engaging Indigenous people in the operations of the institutions. It impacts on the quality of the research, if the subject also moves from being under the lens to operating the microscope. The flaw which is patently clear on examining historic research, are nonIndigenous people lacked the knowledge to adequately analyse what they had measured, dissected, tagged and stored under lock and key.

Untruths and distortions have perpetuated today’s attitudes, and in addition to shaping racism has also confused the nonIndigenous community about what is now 2.5% of the population.

That such a small percentage of the population garners so much interest is for two reasons:

Land tenure

Indigenous disadvantage.

In the NT over 60% of the land mass, including most of the coastline, is Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) 1976 land. The poorest, least educated group with the shortest life span holds the strongest form of land tenure, not just in Australia, but in the world.

Over 16% of the total Australian land mass have ‘registered determinations’ under Native Title.

Any group – regardless of their circumstances – that holds interest in that much land is going to be of high importance to governments.

Just as people meet in board rooms all over this country to discuss health, education, housing, employment and racism, there are people just as committed to meeting to discuss the land – who controls it, how to access it, what activity will be permitted on it and how much to pay for it.

That’s a considerable amount of information being circulated, a lot of networking, and the subjects of all this discussion prior to the narrowing of the digital divide, were the least informed.

Benefits to the Indigenous community are significant. For example, isolated Indigenous groups are limited in their bargaining power, but consider all the groups along the proposed route for a gas pipeline being connected to each other with digital access to organisations of greater legal and administrative capacity whilst they negotiate Indigenous Land Use Agreements?

And technology enables a broader discussion and declarations around current national issues including Constitutional recognition, sovereignty, racial discrimination and land rights.

Indigenous people have embraced IndigenousDX with the same diversity as exists with individuals and their communities.

Some are struggling with finding the pathways, and others have jumped the digital gap and landed within a national consciousness that had limited awareness of the emerging Indigenous social media presence. Or had they been geared to believe that Indigenous people were less motivated to educate themselves on issues that matter?

Discussions about ‘Indigenous people’ will invariably throw up the same names, for reasons that can be confusing to members of the Indigenous community. That some Indigenous people became household names was only largely due to the nonIndigenous media.

This appears obvious when observers believe they can confidently point to publications that promote particular entities, communities and issues and contrast it with the other end of the spectrum where pockets of Indigenous media are more inclusive, and far less equivocal, in the main, in identifying consensus or diversity of opinion amongst Indigenous people.

 Our children are our future.

This is not merely an Indigenous catch phrase. The majority of the Indigenous population is under 25. Add to that the reduced life span familiar to many due to closing the gap campaigns, and this accounts for the emphasis on young people and the future.

And finally, who are the people who have the fastest takeup and are the most enthusiastic when it comes to the digital age?

Which demographic are regularly surveyed as less racist, more inclusive of new ideas and haven’t invested careers and livelihoods in maintaining the current political and technological landscape?

Young people, or to be more specific, Australian young people.

  1. Abdul Rahman said:

    Such a wonderful ability to synthesise distinctly diverse strands into a subtlety layered unity. Jawdrop.

  2. Digital equaily is important and essential in closing the gap. I have worked hard to understand this issue for over 12 years now. I have been lucky enough to have spent time with First Nations people in Russia, Sweden and Canada and we all face the same issue. The research is clear, if we miss the digital bus the gap gets bigger over time and it is extremely tough to address that gap. There are some challenges in this space too. I once likened ICTs to neo-colonialism as there were not many Aboriginal people in the digital space. This is changing fast. What I have looked for and am still looking for is a disruptive technology that will accelerate take up of technology. You can find some info on technology uptake in remote, rural and urban communities here

    This is a most insightful read. thank you!

  3. Thank you Siv, this is a great read and has made me think hard about my own understanding (minimal) and where I need to learn more (so many questions!) I am watching Indigenous DX with excitement at the possibilities of connecting communities and the good that can come from digital excellence.

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