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Indigenous Knowledge Databases

Aboriginal Dancers Image found at https://smallestforest.net/tag/aboriginal/

In Michael Cristie’s Computer Databases and Aboriginal Knowledge, found at http://www.cdu.edu.au/centres/ik/pdf/CompDatAbKnow.pdf, he discusses the possibility of creating a database of the knowledge of the elders in order to carry on this knowledge in an age where many of the Aboriginal youth are more interested in technology than carrying on tradition. He discusses the complexity of this, as databases contain information rather than knowledge, and are not a be all end all solution.

He discusses this in context of the Yolngu people of Northern Territories Australia. In order to do such a thing, one must consider the structure of the knowledge in order to most closely represent that in a database structure. In doing so, “we are in danger of falling victim to a ‘reverse bootstrapping process’ where we produce from the database a scientific model of the world which has its shape not because the world is so, but because this is the nature of our data structures” (Cristie). Despite these concerns, people have in fact made similar databases to what Cristie proposes for the Yolngu people.

One such database is Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge, found at http://aibk.info/. This data does not try to encompass the knowledge of an entire group, but rather utilizes certain knowledge in the context of ecology and land management in Australia. In order to do so they catalogue work done primarily on the study of the interaction between the Aboriginal people and the Australian environment. As part of this they map out where place-based, localized documentation has occurred and create an interactive way to view this data.

However, even this project which likely was a significant undertaking still only contains a fraction of the knowledge of these cultures and their history. In order to fully commit any large amount of cultural knowledge to a database would take years of planning, implementation, and recording and would likely result in an imperfect facsimile of the true knowledge which exists.  

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