A new publication discusses the role of technology in sharing and preserving Indigenous Knowledge for future generations. In “Sharing and Preserving Indigenous Knowledge of the Arctic Using Information and Communications Technology,” researchers Heidi McCann and Peter Pulsifer from the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, and Carolina Behe from the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska analyze how digital technologies afford and impact the preservation of documented Indigenous Knowledge while maintaining cultural significance and intellectual property rights.

Yup'ik youth makes audio recordingIn Kwigillingok, Alaska, Corey Joseph, a Yup’ik youth and Calista Education and Culture intern, makes a Yup’ik language audio recording for the Yup’ik Environmental Knowledge Project.

For millennia, Indigenous community Elders in Alaska have passed down knowledge to their youth in private and with consent. Tangible knowledge—woven baskets, clothing, and tools—and intangible knowledge like oral histories in stories and songs can now be found in libraries, archives, and museums. However, institutions and collectors have not always respected communities’ intellectual property rights, resulting in discord and a growing movement toward Indigenous information sovereignty.

The digital age offers new methods of maintaining control while sharing and passing IK, but there are challenges. Oral histories are particularly vulnerable to misrepresentation. Stories can take on significance based on when and where they are told, and transforming spoken word into written form may take these stories out of context. So documenting IK in digital form presents risks—misuse of knowledge, knowledge appropriation, and misrepresentation. The more dynamic the medium the more it can provide a comparable, rich context of knowledge and how community members live and have lived over time.

Traditional Alaskan Culture