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Indigenous Technologies

Indigenous Technologies

Indigenous Technologies at the Berkeley Center for New Media

Design by Victoria Montano

Indigenous Technologies is a program of the Berkeley Center for New Media that engages questions of technology and new media in relation to global structures of indigeneity, settler colonialism and genocide in the 21st century. Our Indigenous Tech events and ongoing conversations with Indigenous scholars and communities aim to critically envision and reimagine what a more just and sustainable technological future can look like. We will highlight Indigenous engagements with robotics, computer science, telecommunications, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, social media, online activism, video games, and more.

Check out our Indigenous Technologies events, part of the 2020-2021 History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series.

More information

Indigenous Technologies is a program of the Berkeley Center for New Media that engages questions of technology and new media in relation to global structures of indigeneity, settler colonialism and genocide in the 21st century. Towards these ends, we will host public events and facilitate ongoing conversations with Indigenous scholars and communities to critically envision and reimagine what a more just technological future can look like. These conversations will highlight Indigenous engagements with robotics, computer science, telecommunications, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, social media, online activism, video games, and more. Live lectures and presentations will be featured through our two public events series: Art, Technology and Culture and the History and Theory of New Media lectures. These events will take place online and be available through our website at bcnm.berkeley.edu, alongside with other resources for teaching and research in these topics.

Historically, technology has been central to Western notions of modernity, industrialization and linear narratives of progress. Understood as the application of scientific knowledge, the notion of technology has been dominated by Westernized understandings of what counts as being “technological.” Centering Indigenous voices and communities, Indigenous Technologies disrupts these settler colonial and Eurocentric definitions of technology that serve to erase Indigenous communities and ways of knowing. In this way, this program holds a collaborative space in which to interrogate and interrupt Western technology’s historical and contemporary complicities with structures of domination and exploitation in relation to Indigenous communities and communities of color.

This programming is grounded in the ethic that Indigenous worldviews and approaches to technology offer important and innovative ways of addressing the most urgent and interconnected crises of our times, including climate change, viral pandemics, and the viability of human futurity itself. Indigenous technologies are not outdated or otherwise marginal to these debates. Instead, shifting the dominant narrative requires that we re-center Indigenous voices in these solutionary conversations. Despite predominant cultural narratives of collapse, apocalypse and end-of-times, we seek to maintain an orientation towards the possibilities of a sustainable and creative Indigenous-led future. Rooted in commitments to epistemic plurality and interculturality — “a world in which there is room for many worlds” — we seek to create a space of dialogue, un/learning and interconnection.

Confrontations between Western approaches to technology and Indigenous communities provide important examples from which to situate this rethinking process. Indigenous-led social movements that are resisting settler infrastructure — from Standing Rock to Patagonia, Mauna Kea, and the Niger Delta — serve as points of inflection for these conversations. In other words, the question of whose technology counts sits at the heart of these conflicts. We wish to reframe stories that are often told through a problematic and Eurocentric lens that reduce Indigenous communities to being non-technological. These narratives rearticulate Indigenous peoples and ways of knowing as backwards, unmodern and otherwise primitive. These colonial tropes serve to erase Indigenous technologies and peoples and extend racialized binaries of civilization vis-á-vis savagery. In this colonial imaginary, Indigenous people themselves are seen as obstacles to modernity’s forward march, when modernity itself has been predicated on the exploitation and oppression of Indigenous peoples, lands, rights, knowledge, lifeways, and resources.

Through this work we will develop critical understandings of both indigeneity and technology as key terms in New Media Studies. We resist definitions of indigeneity that are culturally essentialist, simplistic or overly generalized. We also reject indigeneities that rely on recognition from settler state bureaucracies as a prerequisite for existence. Indigenous peoples and nations can be found all over the world and are extremely diverse. What we understand as Indigenous is the transgenerational and originary relationship a people holds with their particular ancestral territory and the place-based knowledge that emerges from these places of origin. As a system of mass dis-placement and dispossession, colonialism has been — and continues to be — a radical disruption of these relationships. The colonial expansion of Western modernity has produced a globalization process rooted in (amongst other things) Indigenous genocide and erasure. This colonial turn profoundly affected not only Indigenous peoples in the Americas, but Native peoples of every part of planet Earth, including Western Europe itself.

As the organizers for the Indigenous March from Science make clear, “Science, as concept and process, is translatable into over 500 different Indigenous languages in the U.S. and thousands worldwide. Western science is a powerful approach, but it is not the only one. Let us remember that long before Western science came to these shores, there were Indigenous scientists here. Native astronomers, agronomists, geneticists, ecologists, engineers, botanists, zoologists, watershed hydrologists, pharmacologists, physicians and more—all engaged in the creation and application of knowledge which promoted the flourishing of both human societies and the beings with whom we share the planet” (2017). Through these understandings of Indigenous science, we explore questions of Indigenous Technologies in relation to this broader project of opening up STEM disciplines to reconcile their relationships with these many different knowledge systems.

One example of Indigenous Technologies in action today can be witnessed in differential approaches to medicine. Medical technologies in the Western Scientific sense of the term might conjure images of biomedical research labs, electromagnetic monitors or imaging systems such as CT or MRI scans. Indigenous approaches to medical technology, on the other hand (though not opposed to these technologies), might also include a hands-on diagnostic test, a urine or saliva exam, or individual and community healing ceremonies. These traditional healing praxes can also include medicine songs, dialogue with elders or the application of medicinal plants. The development of these medical technologies is rooted in the Indigenous languages, cosmologies and transgenerational knowledge systems of the world’s Original Peoples. The fact that these practices have survived centuries of colonialism and cultural genocide speaks not only to the efficacy of these technologies, but also to the resilience of Indigenous peoples at large.

Bibliography and Reading list to come!