Skip to content

Article/Report: Indigenous Peoples knowledge society: Transformations and challenges

Article/Report: Indigenous Peoples knowledge society: Transformations and challenges published on 2 Comments on Article/Report: Indigenous Peoples knowledge society: Transformations and challenges

Budka, P., Fiser, A. 2010. Indigenous Peoples knowledge society: Transformation and challenges. Report and introduction to the section Indigenous Peoples Knowledge Society. TRANS – Internet Journal for Cultural Studies, 2010(17). Online:

This introductory text and a collection of papers, which were presented at the “Indigenous Peoples Knowledge Society” workshop at the “KCTOS: Wissen, Kreativität und Transformationen von Gesellschaften” conference in December 2007 in Vienna will be accessible online in the 17th issue of TRANS: Internet Journal for Cultural Studies.

Of the more than 300 million Indigenous People recognized by the United Nations, a growing minority is actively shaping indigenous visions of a knowledge-based society (e.g. UNHCHR 2001, 1997). These visions are not simply indigenous responses to global mainstream debates over post-industrial development or techno-scientific culture, etc. More importantly, they articulate the actual deployment of new media and information communications technologies (ICTs) by indigenous communities to forward their own policies and practices. They frame how indigenous communities are mobilizing over the internet and on the web to communicate their lived experiences and extend their local networks to global audiences, including and most importantly, a global indigenous audience.

For academics in the field, Indigenous Peoples are opening up spaces of inquiry beyond the digital divide by actively co-creating online communities and transforming their cultural experience through ICTs. Questions about resources, knowledge, power, and access continue to be important, but they have become more complicated by issues of networking and social life, virtual reproduction, and information policy.

Knowledge production within the knowledge society is not only closely related to new forms of communication and technologies, it is also the basic principle of research and academic work. Research with Indigenous Peoples has been changing dramatically over the last forty years, particularly because more and more members of indigenous communities have become actively involved in shaping research policy and undertaking research projects. There is also a heightened sensitivity that research with Indigenous People and communities can be a conflict-ridden endeavour, as Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2005: 2), a Māori researcher, notes when she identifies research as “… a significant site of struggle between the interests and ways of knowing of the West and the interests and ways of resisting of the Other”. The Other in her example, and in our section, represents the position that Indigenous Peoples take as marginal forces within the mainstream currents of the global knowledge society.

In the history of contact between Europeans and Indigenous Peoples, knowledge and the production of knowledge rapidly became commodities to be exploited by the European colonizers. Only the recent global decolonization movement of Indigenous Peoples allowed for the creation of an indigenous research agenda. According to Smith (2005: 115-118) this global indigenous research agenda consists of four main “conditions and states of being through which indigenous communities are moving”: survival, recovery, development, and finally self-determination. The ultimate goal of the indigenous research agenda is self-determination, which not only becomes a political goal, but also a goal of social justice (Smith 2005: 116).

Smith (2005: 142-162) continues her inquiries into (social) research and knowledge production within the indigenous context by identifying several potential indigenous research projects, of which some nicely resonate with the papers and presentations discussed within our section:

  • Claiming: making claims about the rights and dues of Indigenous Peoples (Muhamad-Brandner, O’Connor, Guitérrez Vega)
  • Celebrating Survival: celebrate successfully retained cultural and spiritual values and authenticity of Indigenous Peoples (Greyling, Chester & Neelameghan)
  • Connecting: relate Indigenous People to other people and the environment (Lomosits & McCaslin, Menezs de Souza & Andreotti, O’Connor)
  • Representing: representation as political concept and as voice and expression of Indigenous Peoples (Chester & Neelameghan, Greyling)
  • Reframing: taking control over the ways indigenous issues are discussed and handled (Lomosits & McCaslin, Muhamad-Brandner, Guitérrez Vega)
  • Networking: building and disseminating knowledge through networks (Neelameghan & Chester, Menezes de Souza & Andreotti)
  • Sharing: sharing knowledge as a collective benefit and a form of resistance, which becomes a responsibility of research with Indigenous Peoples (O’Connor, Menezes de Souza & Andreotti)

Smith (2005) concludes that Indigenous Peoples have their own research needs and priorities, which can but need not agree with the interests of non-indigenous researchers.

Guided by the insightful structure of Smith’s indigenous research program, the papers collected in our conference section address a variety of new social, political, and cultural forms of indigeneity (The concept of “indigeneity” refers in this context to the global construction of indigenous identity, often facilitated through new ICTs (Forte 2006).) Each paper makes reference to one or more of four broadly thematic questions posed by the conference section chairs:

  • How can social sciences describe and explain local indigenous knowledge production in a potentially global knowledge system?
  • How do indigenous communities integrate new media practices and ICTs into processes of local media production and networking to participate in socio-cultural life, political movements, economic development, healthcare, education, and so forth?
  • How might indigenous communities’ uses of new media and ICTs reflect challenges for diversity, conflict, global ethics, pluralism, gender, youth and heritage?
  • What best practices have indigenous organizations developed around the inter-linkages of knowledge production, new media, ICTs, and local/global community networks?

In her paper, Catharina Muhamad-Brandner discusses a Māori decolonization and renaissance movement and the effects it has had on New Zealand’s online identity. Her paper resonates particularly with the second and third thematic questions pertaining to new media practices and socio-cultural politics. In it Muhamad-Brandner describes how new second-level internet domains that refer to the Māori peoples have been introduced and explains how these new media practices positively contribute to the continuing indigenization of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s cyberspace. She concludes that Aotearoa’s Indigenous Peoples have taken significant steps to reclaim and represent their traditional “territory” through the world wide web.

Greg Chester and A. Neelameghan compare in their paper the ways major indigenous stories and events are covered by local mainstream news media in the USA versus online. With an eye on the second and third thematic questions Chester and Neelameghan describe situations where indigenous populations that made up significant percentages of rural American communities were underrepresented by local non-indigenous news media outlets offline. By comparison they found that specialized news media on the internet pro
vided more local information about events relevant to the indigenous populations of those communities. Responding to the fourth thematic question Chester and Neelameghan conclude that more open communication systems such as those found on the web are needed to raise awareness for indigenous issues among no-indigenous media producers and consumers.

In her paper, Betsie Greyling introduces a virtual library model for rural communities in South Africa. Responding to the first and second thematic questions, she describes a way to make indigenous knowledge both globally and locally accessible over the web. Drawing from her experience implementing the project through an action research project, Greyling describes how digital literacy skills were transferred to community members through project based learning to help them carry on with the preservation of their local indigenous knowledge and the creation of local media contents to keep their virtual library current. Greyling concludes that through this model the whole community is integrated in ongoing processes of creating and managing knowledge that can outlive the project development phase.

A. Neelameghan and Greg Chester discuss in their second paper another device for empowering indigenous communities through new media technologies. Responding to the second and third thematic questions they describe how mobile and wireless communication is increasingly used in rural India to produce and disseminate indigenous knowledge about local environmental conditions. They conclude that the knowledge networks produced through cell phone use can benefit indigenous communities locally, while augmenting local benefits by connecting local knowledge and action with governmental, non-governmental and international organizations.

Although not featured in the collection of papers Lynn Mario Menezes de Souza and Vanessa Andreotti introduced a literacy tool to the conference section that encourages learners to appreciate a pluralistic knowledge society, one inclusive of Indigenous Peoples. In response to the fourth thematic question Menezes de Souza and Andreotti concluded that educators must be challenged to reflect upon their ethnocentrism when dealing with indigenous and multi-cultural issues in the classroom.

In his paper, Kevin O’Connor describes how people can learn from places by connecting learning, knowledge production and dissemination to local places with the support of ICTs. In response to the first, second and fourth thematic questions he critically discusses three place-based education programs in Northern Canada, which aim to promote a holistic form of education that values place, nature, and the indigenous knowledge about them. O’Connor concludes that ICTs have the potential to support educators and students to develop new perspectives on cultural events and objects, to get students together, and to share knowledge about environmental and place-based issues.

In response to the third and fourth thematic questions Helga Lomosits and Wanda McCaslin introduce in their paper a program on indigenous diplomacy and young international professionals that bridges the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous students concerned with justice and legal issues within the global knowledge society. Lomosits and McCaslin conclude that through the program young indigenous peoples have the chance to exchange ideas, learn about other cultures and regions and reframe their identities and experiences as young indigenous persons.

Finally, in response to the second and third thematic questions Pablo Gutiérrez Vega deals with the issue of “cartographic gaps”, the differences between indigenous and non-indigenous ways of tracing and mapping land. Guittérrez Vega argues that ICTs, such as geographical information systems (GIS) have the potential to support Indigenous Peoples in their self-demarcation of indigenous territories. Yet, drawing from his activist fieldwork in Venezuela, Vega concludes that forms of ICT enabled indigenous self-demarcation face real challenges concerning local community members’ access to and control over the technologies and resulting data.

Questions about what happens to Indigenous Peoples within a global knowledge society – however one wants to define this societal construct – or about how non-indigenous people experience action and solidarity with Indigenous People remain open for debate, as Adam Fiser and Veronica Alfaro remarked in the final discussion of this conference section. They reminded us that it is important not to forget that only few members of indigenous communities actually have access and the means to control new media technologies independently of the dominant mainstream societies in their regions. Yet what seems clear and exciting is that the knowledge society, with all its new ICTs and ways to locally produce and globally disseminate knowledge, provides new and positive opportunities for Indigenous Peoples to continue resisting the dominant currents of mainstream global society.


Forte, Maximilian C. (2006): Amerindian@Caribbean: Internet indigeneity in the electronic generation of Carib and Taino identities. In Landzelius, Kyra (Ed.), Native on the Net: Indigenous and Diasporic Peoples in the Virtual Age (pp. 132-151). London and New York: Routledge.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai (2005): Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London & New York: Zed Books. Eight Impression.

UNHCHR (2001): United Nations Guide for Indigenous Peoples. Geneva: United Nations. Online:

UNHCHR (1997): Fact Sheet No. 9 (Rev.1), The Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Geneva: United Nations.


Just discovered your blog via John Postill’s site and noticed that Brack Obama inspired both of us. Ever since I spent a year on Finnish language studies and traveling the country, the Saami people remained special to me. The University of the Artic is working on some of the issue you mention: to see you again this year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Primary Sidebar