Representation and erasure: opportunities and risks that Wikipedia presents for First Nations knowledges
Aboriginal flag mural, Eveleigh Street, Redfern, circa 2003
It has long been acknowledged Wikipedia has a diversity problem, among its editors and the content they write. GLAM organisations are increasingly looking to support initiatives to remedy this imbalance and bias. These efforts often reveal significant tensions between Wikipedia's principles and other knowledge systems, like those of First Nations people around the world.
On 10 July 2021, City of Sydney held a First Nations edit-a-thon focused on improving articles of importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on Wikipedia, as part of a broader series of City of Sydney edit-a-thons in partnership with Wikimedia Australia. Initially planned for the Redfern Community Centre in 2020, the event was held entirely online due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The First Nations edit-a-thon was led by Kirsten Thorpe, a Worimi Senior Researcher from the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education & Research at the University of Technology Sydney, and Nathan “Mudyi” Sentance, a Wiradjuri activist, librarian and essayist currently working at the Australian Museum, with Wikimedians Toby Hudson and Caddie Brain.
Thorpe and Sentance described the opportunities Wikimedia platforms could hold for truth telling and acknowledging First Nations histories, but also unpacked the many complexities of ensuring traditional knowledges are controlled by communities and cultural protocols are respected.
"Wikipedia is just one of these sources that people just use," Sentance said. "It's detrimental to ignore it."
"There are lots of opportunities to assert First Nations sovereignty, to reconfirm that First Nations people were always here and the incredible work that First Nations people are doing - acts of resistance, survival and resistance in the face of ongoing colonisation."
"If information doesn't exist, that where true trauma lies." Thorpe agrees.
Around 25 participants worked to improve First Nations histories with a focus on articles about places, cities and town, some of which previously had no acknowledgment of any First Nations history, as well as creating new articles on First Nations organisations and leaders:
See the First Nations Edit-a-thon Event Dashboard here.
Kirsten Thorpe and Nathan “Mudyi” Sentance will be presenting at Wikimania 2021 on Monday 16 August (0700 UTC; 1700 AEST), offering a conversation about the opportunities and risks that Wikipedia presents for First Nations people.
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