Interactive

A Crowd-Sourced Website Helps Preserve Indigenous Cultures

Cultural Codex invites anyone to contribute stories and experiences that record aspects of indigenous cultures they want to celebrate.

Cultural Codex’s website (screenshot via culturalcodex.com)

A new online publishing platform is working to preserve and share knowledge of the cultures and languages of indigenous communities. Cultural Codex, developed by software company Dadavan Systems, invites anyone to contribute stories and experiences that record aspects of indigenous culture they want to celebrate, through personalized galleries that support text, video, photographs, and sound recordings. Currently in its early stages, the website features just a few dozen examples so far, but its creators envision archivists, artists, curators, museums, cultural and language centers, and many others producing online exhibitions and libraries that feature everything from archival material to personal reflections. Like those ancient, handwritten books from which the project takes its name, the growing resource will come together as a collaborative effort.

Among the posts available now is a fun visual explainer by the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre on how to build a wigwam. Photographs and videos of a team tying together pieces of the shelter, as well as an artist etching decorations on birch bark, bring you straight to the action, taught by those who are well-acquainted with the traditional construction methods. Another contributor has posted a video of the Anishinaabe painter Peter Migwans speaking with schoolchildren, while another shared recordings of himself speaking basic phrases in Mi’kmaq, from “good morning” to “I love you.”

Dadavan has been collaborating with indigenous communities across Canada since 2001 to create educational software. “For the last three or four years, we listened to our client partners talk about loss of culture and, in particular, loss of language,” representative Jennifer Hill told Hyperallergic. “So we asked the question, ‘How can we help?’ As software developers, what can we do to support Indigenous communities in preserving and honoring their culture and heritage? Cultural Codex was created in response to our ongoing dialogue.”

The effort is commendable and necessary, but the platform in its current state is simply too open. Authors create posts and galleries without going through any kind of approval or vetting process, and they’re entirely responsible for making sure content is both accurate and appropriate. There’s a mechanism for viewers to report inappropriate content, but Dadavan Systems does not have editors look through contributions. Additionally, while the company’s original intent was to help indigenous communities tell their stories, Cultural Codex evolved over the past year to have a broader purpose of preserving any cultural projects. Its primary focus is still to encourage the sharing of indigenous culture, but there are now articles on remembering retro computers and Denis Diderot. This expansion to essentially any cultural content muddles the website, turning it into a Wikipedia-like platform with only a search bar and tags to help you sort through the data dump.

As artist Susan Hiller’s work “Lost and Found” demonstrates, languages are swiftly disappearing, but archival material on them is available; living speakers are also invaluable and rich resources. Cultural Codex would do well to home in on indigenous cultures alone. It has the potential to become a leading platform for voices that are often overlooked or ignored, where crowd-sourced information can make sharing and learning about them an interactive, engaging experience.

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