Course:FNIS454/Don't Yell at Alexa: Indigenous Ontologies

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FNIS 454
Indigenous New Media
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This open access resource is developed by the students of FNIS 454: Indigenous New Media. Via summary and analysis of key article, this wiki explores the theoretical, cultural, socio-political, and gendered dynamics underwriting the histories and futures of Indigenous new media as it develops out of the late 90s and into the present moment.
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Don't Yell at Alexa: Indigenous Ontologies, by Jessica Adamson

We have learned with Western society that humanity is at the apex of the world and above those who live within it. Animals, plants and everything in between are seen as inferior and in Xtian writings, we are told that humanity has dominion over the beasts of the field. Thus, anything we create would be below us ourselves. This is in direct contrast to Indigenous epistemologies that teachthat everything in the world is relational. We are not better than the salmon or the cedar tree by virtue of being human. We are all living in this world together and must work harmoniously along with one another in our vast network.

In this modern age, we see more and more artificial intelligence developed; some even pass the Turing Test. We must ask ourselves how these machines knit themselves into the fabric of our lives and what they deserve from us. The common belief is that they are our own creations and are only machines. On the other hand, if we have gifted them sentience, should we not respect that and all that it entails? Jason Lewis states that Indigenous epistemologies are the best at “respectfully accommodating the non-human”. However, we must also reiterate that Indigeneity is not monolithic and not all peoples have the same beliefs though there tend to be similarities. Indigenous people are not static and archaic despite what laws and Hollywood would tell you. We are an ever-evolving and dynamic people who have just as much of a place when it comes to technology as anyone else would have. The internet is a new territory that is ready to be explored and is in fact the only true form of terra nullius.

‘Making Kin With Machines’ uses several Indigenous methodologies and ways of being to show us ethical ways we can interact with machines and AIs. By relying on protocols and ontologies from within our own communities we can “reconceptualize AI-human relations”. In the article, the authors utilize teachings from Cree, Hawaiian and Lakota kinship concepts. From Hawiaiian we are given the concepts of both hāloa and aloha. With hāloa we strive to support a governance structure that “maintain[s the] correct social relations between people and the land” and can be extended to our relationship with technology. Aloha supports this by “teaching and learning reciprocally in relation” to those around us on our journey. From the Cree we get wahkohtawin which tells us that ‘all things have a place in our circle of kinship’ and that place is valued. From the Lakota we get the concept of wakȟáŋ which again informs us “to take the world as the interconnected whole that it is, where the ontological status of non-humans is not inferior to that of humans.” It also teaches us that “non-humans have spirits that do not come from us or our imaginings but from elsewhere, from a place we cannot understand” and we must accept that or else go against the dignity of the world.

By using these teachings and moving forward in these spaces we assure our own sense of sovereignty and survivance. We can carve out and create spaces that are solely for us and our use while maintaining the relationality that is so important. These relationships can be built on mutual respect and love instead of fear and servitude.