A WSU professor is helping indigenous communities learn to archive their cultural heritage through her research project, Mukurtu.
Director of Digital Projects at the Plateau Center for American Indian Studies Kimberly A. Christen and her project were awarded a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to help further fund the development of Mukurtu. The grant amounted to $484,772.
The grant will be used to help deploy, evaluate and refine Mukurtu through community design and implementation workshops in partnership with an international team, according to mukurtu.org. The funding will also help add features such as audio recording for translations and customized keyboards in indigenous languages
“We were thrilled to hear about receiving the funding from IMLS as it will allow us to realize the full potential of the Mukurtu software tool suite, including allowing us to provide training for indigenous librarians, archivists and curators,” Christen said.
Christen said she is specifically working with the Center for Digital Archaeology (CoDA) at UC Berkeley CivicActions and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to develop Mukurtu, which is an indigenous content management system and digital archive built around the particular needs of indigenous peoples globally.
Team member and Chief Technology Officer at UC Berkeley Michael Ashley said the research began while Christen was in Austraila.
“Working in the remote Central Australian town of Tennant Creek, Christen found the Warumungu Aboriginal community wanted a system to archive and organize their digital cultural materials in line with their cultural protocols,” Ashley said. “Cultural protocols are the categories used by the community to express meaning for their cultural heritage in their own terms. These terms are often quite different from more standardized access controls we find in software platforms.”
According to mukurtu.org, Christen and her team researched concerns about access, preservation, licensing and sharing within cultural systems that don’t align with Western legal and social systems.
While the research started with the Warumungu Aboriginal community in 2005, where approximately 500 people currently speak the native language, Ashley said the Mukurtu research could affect hundreds of other indigenous and underprivileged communties worldwide.
Ashley said he, Christen and the rest of the team are working with the WIPO to
create Traditional Knowledge licenses to make it easy for communities to share their content as they see fit.
Christen said the purpose of Mukurtu is to try and meet these needs while also being flexible enough to showcase the differences of indigenous cultural heritage needs.
Christen has previously worked on other research projects exploring cultural heritage and traditional knowledge as well as the use and growth of digital technologies in indigenous communities, according to kimchristen.com.
Previous works of Christen’s include The Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, which is a collaborative digital curation and multi-tribal archive project that allows different tribes to narrate their cultural heritage, according to her website.
Christen said her previous projects, as well as the Mukurtu project, have been grassroots efforts.
“The Indigenous communities we have worked with and consulted with have all expressed a desire to have the type of community archive and content management system that highlights their own cultural protocols and social systems,” Christen said.
She said instead of trying to force indigenous people to conform to Western ideals and standards, Mukurtu allows them to maintain and highlight their own cultural systems while also deciding how and with whom they will share their materials.
Christen said in that way, the technology is not the key, but the relationships they are trying to promote. She said the needs they are addressing are based first and foremost on the expressed needs of indigenous communities.
Ashley said moving forward with the Mukurtu research, they plan to work with students from the School of Information at UC Berkeley to explore user-centered design studies.