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Gates Foundations Supports NT Indigenous Communities

27 August 2007 at 12:40 pm
Staff Reporter
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given $1.25 million to expand computer and internet services to Northern Territory indigenous communities.

Staff Reporter | 27 August 2007 at 12:40 pm


Gates Foundations Supports NT Indigenous Communities
27 August 2007 at 12:40 pm

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given $1.25 million to expand computer and internet services to Northern Territory indigenous communities.

The Microsoft founder gave the money to the NT Library (NTL) as recognition for the ‘Our Story’ database that allows Aboriginal people to preserve and share their culture.

The software, which stores photos, sound recordings and videos, also improves the technology and literacy skills of indigenous people.

The Annual Access and Learning Award is part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries initiative.

The foundation’s Access to Learning Award recognizes innovative efforts outside the United States to connect disadvantaged people and remote communities to information through free access to computers and the Internet.

In 2004, NTL launched a new program that has transformed 13 of these existing libraries into vibrant community centers for sharing knowledge. Through this model, known as the Libraries and Knowledge Centers program, NTL has trained and equipped local library staff to help indigenous people build digital archives of their culture.

Armed with cameras and computers, voice and video recorders, and scanners and printers, community members capture old and contemporary art, maps, songs, photos, and lessons in their local language. They film events and record interviews and traditional practices. Then they store the digital content with user-friendly software called "Our Story."

Communities have embraced Our Story, collecting more than 40,000 items since 2004.

NTL Director Jo McGill says indigenous Territorians are very proud of their heritage and language, which are endangered in many places.

She says the Libraries and Knowledge Centers program allows each community to own the content in its unique database and ensure that culturally sensitive materials are viewed and managed respectfully.

She says meaningful uses for the digitized materials are discovered every day. The experience can be deeply personal.

McGill tells the story of a bereaved family from Wadeye, about 150 miles southwest of Darwin. The Nganbe family’s clan totem is the yam flower, and age-old cultural practice called for them to return to their traditional homeland to collect the flower for a funeral. Without a car, that would mean a two-day walk that was neither practical nor possible. Instead, the Nganbes copied a digital image of the flower from their local Our Story database, screen-printed it onto t-shirts at the local art center, and wore the shirts at the funeral.

Others use Our Story to rediscover lost family history. Northern Territory Minister for Local Government Elliot McAdam, MLA, himself an Indigenous Australian, has few memories of his mother, who died when he was very young.

McGill says he was very moved to find photos of his mother on one of the local Our Story databases, photos that he didn’t know existed.

She says NTL will use the $1.25 million Access to Learning Award to take Our Story into more communities and to train more community library staff. It also will expand its early years literacy program for indigenous children, to better prepare them for success in school.

Other plans include sharing appropriate cultural material from Our Story with a wider Australian audience.

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