Course:FNIS454/Indigenous Epistemologies in Cyberspace

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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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Indigenous Epistemologies in Cyberspace, by Wenonah North Peigan

First, it is important to acknowledge that there is a possibility that cyberspace can repeat power relations that have been normalized in settler-colonial society. For example, cyberspace is usually framed through a Western way of knowing that prioritizes knowledge extraction as a means to create. This directly contradicts Indigenous philosophies of relationality, caretaking, and reciprocal exchange. Thus, it is necessary to carefully examine digital platforms to ensure cultural safety when adapting Indigenous stories into digital spaces. For example, you must ensure you are adhering to traditional knowledge protocols, maintaining the space, and uplifting Indigenous values. Loretta Todd’s “Aboriginal Narratives in Cyberspace” urges developers to not just listen to Indigenous voices, but to empower them to bring their own epistemologies and ways of knowing into cyberspace. Todd contextualizes her work in ongoing discussions of settler-colonialism illustrating that privileged voices become more audible in cyberspace due to the unequal access Indigenous communities have to technology.

“Some might say that cyberspace marks the end of ideology, the end of history. In cyberspace everyone will have free and equal access regardless of origins. Difference will be mutable, no one group will prevail because, after all, you can be anything or anyone in cyberspace. But will cyberspace duplicate what already exists…”[1]

Similar to Todd, Laura Demers’s essay She Falls For Ages (2017), Skawennati’s Take on Indigenous Futures” notes that it is important for Indigenous narratives to be rooted in an Indigenous-specific reality when being adapted to digital media. Demers notes the potential of Indigenous stories in cyberspace to transcend the colonial notion of time and space common in settler-colonial storytelling. New media tends to replicate settler-colonial relations. By incorporating an Indigenous cosmology as an integral part of the media, users are constantly reminded of the value of Indigenous philosophies, including fluid conceptions of time, territory, and coexistence. For example, in our class, Mohawk scholar, Kahentawaks, was able to incorporate her culturally-specific knowledge, such as Longhouses, into her Second Life simulation. This contributed to not just cultural continuity, but ongoing Indigenous resurgence of our nation-based decolonial practices.

Overall, in order to ensure Indigenous stories are being adapted into new media in a respectful and culturally-safe manner, there must be meaningful and effective communication to not repeat past power imbalances. It is evident that new media has the tendency to replicate the settler-Indigenous relationship that exists in everyday life. Therefore, adaptation of Indigenous values in new media must be Indigenous-led and digital tools should be used to support these voices and avoid the harmful settler-colonial relationship of resource and knowledge extraction. If we incorporate Indigenous practices, we must also include our values, knowledge, and ways of seeing the world into our practices.

  1. Moser & McLeod (1996). Immersed in Technology: Art and Virtual Environments. MIT Press. pp. 179–194.