MWC gets SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis grant for literature review

PROJECT TITLE: Supporting Indigenous Resurgence with Digital Technologies

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: David Perley, Director, MWC, Education, UNB

CO-INVESTIGATOR: Susan O’Donnell, Adjunct Professor, Sociology, UNB

PROJECT DATES: April 11 to October 16, 2016


The project will produce a comprehensive literature review answering the question, how can digital technologies support Indigenous resurgence and learning of Indigenous cultures and languages? The six month grant of $24,728 will support two graduate and two undergraduate students to work on gathering and compiling the material for the final publication that is due on October 16 of this year.


The primary question guiding our proposed project is: How can digital technologies support Indigenous resurgence and learning of Indigenous cultures and languages? Indigenous culture, heritage, identity and languages are rooted in thousands of years of direct relationships with the land and resources providing sustainable, healthy, thriving families, communities, and nations. Over the last few hundred years, colonial forces, practices and teachings have attempted to displace and destroy Indigenous people, their culture and their communities along with their vital connection to the land. The importance of Indigenous resurgence is highlighted by Simpson (2014, p.1):

A resurgence of Indigenous political cultures, governances and nation-building requires generations of Indigenous peoples to grow up intimately and strongly connected to our homelands, immersed in our languages and spiritualities, and embodying our traditions of agency, leadership, decision-making and diplomacy.

Using a critical settler colonialism lens, our project will synthesize and critically analyze research on how digital technologies can support learning and preservation of Indigenous cultures and languages. We will also examine how digital technologies can support Indigenous control of these processes. Our critical analysis will link these processes to the ongoing decolonization work, and in particular, how new digital opportunities support the ability of Indigenous community members to stay on the land (Beaton and Carpenter, 2014). 

Indigenous peoples are negotiating settler colonialism and Western discourses by strengthening their traditional knowledge systems (Battiste, 2013; Grande, 2004; Wilson, 2008) and Indigenous academics are turning to resurgence, responsibility, renewal, and relationships to counter damage-centered research (Corntassel, 2012; Tuck, 2009). Creation stories and oral storytelling are keeping Indigenous traditions, knowledges, cultures, and languages alive (Sable and Francis, 2012; Simpson, 2011).

Indigenous community members of all ages are currently using digital technologies – in particular social media – for cultural resurgence, and Indigenous youth have a hunger for reconnecting with their languages and cultures (Molyneaux, O’Donnell, Kakekaspan, Walmark, Budka & Gibson, 2014). However, the integration of technologies into Indigenous cultural and language programs is lagging far behind. Our project will provide knowledge to support the development of more appropriate Indigenous learning and training programs.

Technology is a two-edged sword. Using technology to maintain, recover, and reclaim language, culture, and identity may support bridging the gap between fluent speakers and non-speakers of Indigenous languages. Technology offers the opportunity to share Indigenous digital resources, language applications, and linguistic dictionaries. Digital technologies can deliver Indigenous language teaching and learning programs over distance to Indigenous communities and off-reserve peoples. They can be a tool to confront linguistic genocide (Perley, 2011) and foster community wellness (O’Donnell et al., 2010). Digital platforms can host digital legends, songs, dances, languages, creation stories, and indigenous oral teachings. However, technology limits the interactivity between Indigenous peoples (Simpson, 2011; Battiste, 2013), creating challenges for Indigenous learners because videos, films, written words, and instructions using digital technologies are often in the dominant English language.