Indigenous Cultures in an Interconnected World Book Summary - Indigenous Cultures in an Interconnected World Book explained in key points

Indigenous Cultures in an Interconnected World summary

Claire Smith and Graeme K. Ward

How Indigenous Peoples Can Tackle the Challenges of Globalization

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What is Indigenous Cultures in an Interconnected World about?

Indigenous Cultures in an Interconnected World (2000) examines how globalization and new technologies are affecting indigenous peoples. It provides an analysis of the many opportunities and threats that globalization entails for indigenous societies, along with success stories of how indigenous activists are using technology to benefit their communities. The book’s chapters present the perspectives of 14 authors from around the world.

About the Author

Dr. Claire Smith and Dr. Graeme K. Ward are the editors of this book and also coauthored one chapter. Dr. Smith is a professor of archaeology at the Flinders University of South Australia and has conducted research with indigenous communities throughout Oceania and Asia. Dr. Ward is an honorary senior lecturer at Australian National University. He’s authored numerous publications on Aboriginal art and archaeology.

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    New forms of communication are having profound impacts on indigenous peoples.

    Unfortunately, we still live in a world dominated by stereotypes. When it comes to indigenous people, this is no exception. Many people associate them with concepts like “ancient wisdom,” or that indigenous communities prefer “living in the past” rather than adjusting to “modern” life.

    But the reality is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Both before and during colonialism, indigenous peoples have consistently demonstrated dynamism and flexibility when it comes to adjusting to new realities.

    Before Europeans arrived, indigenous peoples were constantly figuring out creative ways to communicate with each other. Even when they didn’t speak the same language as their neighbors, they found ways to convey information. In the Great Plains region of North America, for example, indigenous Americans developed sign language to communicate with their neighbors. This included signs for important concepts such as the location of bison, water, or even mutual enemies.

    This tradition of dynamic creativity continued into colonial times. Take the last century, for example. Indigenous people are often spread over vast areas of land. Many communities were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands, driving geographic wedges between clans and families. So it makes sense that indigenous communities embraced inventions like the telephone, radio, and car with enthusiasm. Such technology allowed them to communicate with each other, no matter how far apart they were. By harnessing colonial technology, they helped fight against colonialism’s attempt to divide them.

    Fast forward to today, and it seems that centuries of creatively adjusting to new realities have prepared indigenous peoples for globalization. For many nonindigenous people, concepts like loss of identity or cultural homogenization are relatively new. But indigenous communities have been facing these issues for over 400 years. And they have a track record of successfully adapting to new circumstances in order to survive.

    One way that indigenous peoples are engaging with our globalized world is through what one of the authors calls cultural activism. This describes harnessing the power of globalized media and the internet to empower indigenous communities in various ways. These cultural activists are helping to revive indigenous languages, document history, and share the issues they face with the wider world.

    Take the 1994 New Zealand drama film Once Were Warriors, for example. Directed by and starring members of the indigenous Māori community, the film became a huge global success. Many saw it as a watershed moment for indigenous media. Viewers were allowed a glimpse into modern Māori life and the issues they face, many for the first time. And with the film industry being extremely globalized, viewers weren’t only from New Zealand – they were watching from around the world.

    Film isn’t the only form of media where indigenous cultural activists work. The internet is perhaps the form of media most associated with globalization, and for good reason. Not only does it allow people to communicate instantly with each other no matter where they are – but it’s also growing like wildfire. In the ten years before 1997, 50 million people gained access to the internet. To compare, take the telephone, where it took 75 years to get the same number of people connected.

    Indigenous people are harnessing the power of the internet in many ways. For example, the ability to share and access information with ease is having huge ramifications for indigenous education and knowledge-sharing. And technologies such as instant messaging and social networks are enabling indigenous people to discuss problems they face in real time.

    Just as indigenous people before European contact developed creative ways to communicate with their neighbors, the internet is allowing them to do the same. This is particularly true when it comes to communicating with nonindigenous people who frequent the same websites and chat rooms as their indigenous neighbors. Such digital commons are one of the rare places where indigenous and nonindigenous people can interact en masse in an unmediated, direct way.

    Unfortunately, the internet is also having negative impacts on indigenous communities. One of these effects is on traditional knowledge systems. Western societies have a tradition of writing knowledge down and making it accessible far and wide. But in many indigenous cultures, knowledge is often not something that can be taken but is rather given. In such societies, older generations act as gatekeepers of knowledge, this affording them status and respect. This reflects the importance of the oral tradition in many indigenous communities.

    The internet, however, is a reflection of the Western society that created it – one can simply search for knowledge, and take it at will. But the majority of indigenous people with access to the internet are mostly younger. This undoubtedly has implications for social structures relating to knowledge-sharing. Younger voices may gain power at the expense of older generations – and this might lead to the fabric of indigenous societies being undermined.

    The freedom inherent in the internet also has its drawbacks when it comes to the representation of indigenous culture. With anyone able to share basically anything on all sorts of online platforms, indigenous peoples are losing control over who represents them online. Art, music, and other forms of indigenous culture are constantly shared without permission – and this leads to the question of whether controlling it is even possible.

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    Who should read Indigenous Cultures in an Interconnected World

    • Citizens of countries born out of colonialism interested in their nation’s history
    • Students of anthropology and archaeology
    • Curious indigenous and nonindigenous minds looking to understand our changing world

    Categories with Indigenous Cultures in an Interconnected World

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