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Indigenous language curriculum boosted by new Wiki site

Schools all over Australia are embracing the incorporation of Indigenous languages into their curriculum. Classrooms at Djidi Djidi Aboriginal School in Noongar country (now Bunbury, WA) feature “colourful pictures of people and animals with words like kaya and mooditj” and a new Wiki site is bringing that knowledge online. 

Kaya wandjoo ngala NoongarPedia”, which means: “welcome to our Noongarpedia” welcomes you to a new Wiki site that students will love. In Noongar country, in the south-west of Western Australia, a movement has begun to embrace the collaborative Wiki platform to create NoongarPedia. 

Despite some difficulties and frustrations associated with trying to record spoken languages with no established spelling, researchers are building the first Wikipedia site in an Aboriginal Australian language.

The Noongar people spoke their language for thousands of years, until, last century, when it started to fade. With the help of the Wiki technology and a bunch of very dedicated researchers and language custodians, the knowledge can be recorded.

The NoongarPedia project is still in its “incubator” phase, but already resembles the main English Wikipedia page.

According to The Little Red Yellow Black Site, many ‘languages have been lost under European influences’. “Those of us who were forced into missions and institutions were not only discouraged from speaking our languages, but were actively punished when we tried to do so.

While some languages have been irretrievably lost, there is work being done to revive and maintain languages by communities, cultural centres and institutions. The maintencance of language is crucial to our cultural health. For many of us, our languages represent the keystone to our identities, Law and land claims.”

Aboriginal languages and knowledge are now being revived, celebrated and made a part of the Australian curriculum.

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Noongar woman Ingrid Cumming, a research associate working on the project, told ABC reporters that the bilingualism of the site is important.  “We’re trying to work with Wikimedia Australia to keep the same kind of interface but also make it culturally appropriate,” she was quoted by the ABC in article ‘NoongarPedia created as first Wikipedia site in Aboriginal language’.

The same article reported that classrooms at Djidi Djidi Aboriginal School in Bunbury, WA, feature “colourful pictures of people and animals with words like kaya and mooditj”.

“Kids when they went to school weren’t allowed to speak their language, so they’ve lost it,” said Noongar language teacher Kim Stanley told the ABC.

Subjected to the oppressive language polices mentioned earlier, Kim Stanley reported that the school cleaner was told off for speaking language at school, resulting in the students being ‘put off’ doing it.

The site welcomes contributions and states its plan as “to concentrate the process of populating Wikipedia entries into a number of broad knowledge domains”.

The site also states that “this is partly for the practical purpose of limiting the scope of the project to feasible proportions in line with the CIs’ own expertise. More important, these categories are expected to cover popular preoccupations and therefore user-searches and development. Without seeking to be comprehensive or exclusive, these domains will model how the work can be done and explore attendant conceptual and practical problems”.

The categories listed are:

Country – places, landscapes, flora, fauna; tribal groups and trading patterns;

Narrative – stories from everyday life, including suburban domestic, urban industrial and regional traditions; literature and other art-forms;

Music – including lyrics, traditional and modern;

Popular culture – broadly defined, including ‘Gen Next’ and emergent knowledge;

Citizenship – public knowledge and exchange, from ‘welcome to country’ to international first-peoples forums.

Ngala waarngkiny noona yoowarl koorliny waangkiny nitja NoongarPedia…They hope you come and contribute to their Noongarpedia! For more information, go here.  

Suzy Barry

Suzy Barry is a freelance education writer and the former editor of School News, Australia.

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