First Nations communities and technology

Technology is changing the world. All our worlds. That includes First Nations communities. Professor Stan Grant Jnr, Vice-Chancellor’s Chair of Australian-Indigenous Belonging at Charles Sturt University, gives his thoughts on the intersection between First Nations communities and technology.

New technologies’ impact on First Nations communities

Professor Grant sees the potential for modern technology to aid the traditional arts of storytelling in First Nations communities.

“I think we can focus too much on technology and not what technology is used for. I focus less on the technological means of communication or knowledge and more on what we are actually saying, what we are actually communicating.

“And we as First Nations people in this case, Wiradjuri in my case, we’re storytelling people. And so how do we tell our stories through whatever technology is at hand? My great-grandfather was a storyteller, and he was given when he was a boy, the stump of a carved tree, a traditional carved tree when they were being knocked down everywhere. His mother rescued one and gave it to him. He carried that with him everywhere he went, and he’d sit it next to him, and he’d tell stories.

“That’s the use of technology as an aid in storytelling. That told us something about who we were. He inhabited that tree, that tree also inhabited him and he spoke through that. Is that different now to me writing on an iPad or using a mobile phone, using ChatGPT or whatever artificial intelligence is out there to craft new ways of telling stories. It still is what we inhabit and what we bring through it.

“I would use modern technology but that doesn’t mean I stop being a Wiradjuri person. Moreover, what I bring to that will determine how effectively I use that. So I think sometimes we allow the technology to define us when it is only ever an extension of who we are.”

Professor Stan Grant Jnr speaking at an event.

Navigating data ownership challenges in First Nations communities

While technology can promote connection, it can also be alienating. Professor Grant hopes that tech can be an additional tool for community, not a replacement.

“If I look at technology in its coldest sense, it’s alienating. And it grows out of a modern world that leaves us disconnected and untethered. Technology ultimately gets to sit in for community and there is something alienating and very cold about the way that technology does that.

“And so I think the danger in a lot of technology is it’s a tool of alienation and it creates the malaise or contributes to the malaise of modernity, which is the way that we become untethered, the way that we lose the human touch and the connection, the coldness of technology.

“And artists depict this all the time. We, as First Nations people, are looking to bring this back to who we are. And it does begin with country. Using a mobile phone standing on Wiradjuri land is a profoundly different experience from using a mobile phone on a plane or in New York or Sydney. The way that I inhabit space is critical to how I connect to the world. I don’t have to physically be there, but I need to be able to carry that with me.

“So here’s a real concrete example of how we can bring country to technology, even when we’re separated from it. During COVID-19, when we weren’t able to travel and we were locked down, I would use Google Earth to visit my country. To revisit the places I grew up in, my grandmother’s house, to look at the rivers and the trees.

“So that’s bringing country to technology, not the other way around. It’s connecting me rather than disconnecting me. It’s giving me a place to belong rather than a place just to be. And so we need to be mindful of that. And I’m also mindful of the way that I seek to push against the disembodied, disenchanted nature of our modern world that technology can contribute to. To utilise technology in a way that brings enchantment and belonging back to that space.”

Unlocking future opportunities for First Nations communities

Professor Grant acknowledges that technology also has a lot of potential for First Natons culture – if it is used in positive ways.

“The opportunities that technology gives everybody. The opportunities of reimagining space, of reimagining connection, of telling new stories, of finding community with people outside your own. I mean, we don’t exist in isolation. Anything in isolation dies. And the way that technology has changed our world, connected our world, shrunk our world, sped up our world, has great opportunities for us all.

“The big risk is the disempowerment, the disembodiment, the disenchantment. To lose the things that we are, to allow the impact of technology to define us and not the other way around. And that’s going to be a challenge for everybody. Do we become obsolete? Do we become, you know, homo useless? Or do we actually find a way to embrace these things that enhance our humanity and allow us to grow our sense of our culture and also our community in new ways?

“I think that’s really exciting. You can’t hold this back. This is the world we live in. The world is increasingly a crowded, contested space. And technology can either be a destructive force, we know we have the capacity to wipe our life on Earth, or we can find ways to bring a spirit to it.

“Where is the God in the machine? So I think that’s the question for us. And as people who are deeply spiritual, as a Wiradjuri person, where is the God, the Baiame in our world, in the machine? The extent of our capacity to do that will determine how successfully technology works for us. Not the other way around.”

Play your part in making the impact of technology positive

You can also gain a nuanced understanding of how these – and many more – issues impact First Nations communities with our Graduate Certificate in Indigenous Cultural Competency.

Or use your tech skills to create a more equitable digital future with our Bachelor of Computer Science.

Learn more about the technological gap

Watch Stan Grant speak about the technology gap between urban and rural Australia.