How culturally diverse communities are using Wikipedia

Communities in Australia and beyond share how they preserve and share histories
, James Gaunt.

On Thursday 9 February 2023, Wikimedia Australia hosted a series of presentations showing the ways diverse communities are preserving their stories and using Wikipedia.

This event was part of The Record: Australian Music On Wikipedia, a partnership between Wikimedia Australia and the Australia Council for the Arts to increase the visibility of Australian content on Wikipedia and make it easier for global audiences to discover great Australian music.

Wikipedia is the 6th most popular website in Australia, but there can be roadblocks around how First Nations people can share their cultural knowledge on Wikipedia.

These can include finding accurate references to cite, accessing archives, and understanding Wikipedia's many policies.

The presentations during 'The Record: How culturally diverse communities are using Wikipedia' sought to show examples of how these roadblocks are being tackled on and off Wikipedia.

Rhianna Patrick is a Torres Strait Islander freelance journalist, broadcaster, and audio content creator. She moderated the evening, and lead discussions following presentations.

Steve Bunbadgee Hodder Watt, a Lardil man from Gununa (Mornington Island), is Digitisation Coordinator for First Nations Media Australia, and has worked predominantly in First Nations media for over 20 years.

He spoke about the urgent need to digitise analogue archives which are often on magnetic tape. These tapes are now deteriorating, and any not digitised by 2025 could be lost forever.

Outside of his efforts around digitisation, Steve also highlighted the need for greater discussions on how communities can access these collections in the future, but said for now his work is focused on the urgent need to preserve as much as possible.

Sophia Amore Coghini, a Pasifika artist of Niuean (Alofi, Hikutavake) Tahitian, Māori (Ngāti Porou, Ngāpuhi), Italian, and Hungarian descent, is part of the Pasifika Arts Aotearoa project to improve content of New Zealand Aotearoa based Pasifika Arts.

She explained how the project was funded as a residency, so contributors like herself were paid to receive training and add to Wikipedia. They focused on biography articles, but sometimes found Wikipedia's strict notability policies a roadblock as stories passed down as oral histories couldn't be properly referenced.

The project created 20 new articles on Wikipedia, and the participants have continued to meet and discuss other ways they can contribute further to Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects.

Olaniyan Ishola Olushola of Wikimedia Nigeria has led many Wikipedia projects in Nigeria and Africa and is project manager for the Nigerian Language Oral History Documentation Project.

He spoke about the efforts to preserve the many languages of Nigeria, and how, of Nigeria's 527 spoken languages, only 3 are used in the education system and 8/10 are considered threatened.

The project has recorded over 100 videos documenting oral histories spoken in their languages with subtitles in twelve languages. These videos have then been added to Wikipedia pages about Nigerian languages so visitors can hear examples of how they are spoken.

The Wikipedia pages have also been translated into other languages and the videos are being shared on social media and with researchers at universities to make sure they reach an international audience.

Video Recording, Audience Questions, and Wrap Up

Each of the presentations were recorded, and are now available to watch on YouTube.

Although a Q&A was held, this weren't recorded as we wanted to allow for open and free discussion. Some of the issues raised concerned how to tackle preservation without communities losing control of their cultural story, and ways oral histories could become valid references in the future.

Programs like the Pasifika Arts project highlighted a way to gain input from communities around how their stories are being told, and each of the presentations showed that support and training is needed to allow communities to take part in these projects.

During the evening, Wikimedia Australia launched our First Nations Wikipedian in Residence program, a paid opportunity for a First Nations person to receive training to improve First Nations music content on Wikipedia.

The Record project has highlighted gaps in how Australia's music history is being preserved. Access to content and archives can be limited, but projects such as residencies or edit-a-thons to create new Wikipedia pages can make Australian music content more visible.

We hope these presentations will help inspire discussions and ideas around ways Wikipedia can be used by First Nations people to tell their story, and what more can be done by organisations like Wikimedia Australia.

Thank you to all of our presenters, our moderator, and everyone who took part in the discussion that followed.

Illustration credit

Rubii Red is a proud Lama Lama woman from Cape York, QLD, but has grown up and lived in Narm (Melbourne, VIC) the majority of her life.

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