A review of Wikipetcia Atikamekw Nehiromowin, a Wikipedia instance in the Atikamekw language, directed by Nastasia Herold
Wikipetcia Atikamekw Nehiromowin
Nastasia Herold, Universität Leipzig
Melissa S. Stoner, University of California
Wikipetcia Atikamekw Nehiromowin is the Wikipedia version in the Amerindian language Atikamekw, spoken by the First Nation of the same name in Quebec, Canada. Of the 8,000 members of the Atikamekw First Nation, 97.9% speak their native language at home (INAC 2020). In 2013, the linguist Nastasia Herold did a field study in Manawan, one of the three Atikamekw communities, for research on local bilingualism (Atikamekw and French). Despite the vitality of the Atikamekw language, a survey and interviews showed that francization and language change are processes noticed by all living generations of the Atikamekw (Herold 2021).
Today, communication takes place more and more often digitally (Reichert 2017), in written, rather than oral, modes. Atikamekw, traditionally an exclusively oral language, has had a standardized orthography since 1994 (Dinnison 1997) and is taught in Manawan’s primary school as a first language and a medium of alphabetization. However, Herold’s (2019) research in 2013 showed that the Internet contained no written text in the Atikamekw language, and the Atikamekw used the Internet mainly in French. This is why a school project at Manawan’s secondary school was initiated in 2013 in order to create a Wikipedia site in the Atikamekw language. In their computer science lessons, the pupils of 10th and 11th grade learned how to write in wiki code, Wikipedia’s markup language. They also learned about rules from the Wikimedia Foundation they have to consider as well as the rules of Wikipetcia itself (e.g., oral sources are allowed, following the local tradition, while articles about medical use of plants and secret ceremonies are forbidden). In order to give students help with writing in their native language, local elders and language specialists were at their sides as they created articles about flora, fauna, important places of their territory, Atikamekw personalities, traditional activities and more.
Moving the articles from the Wikimedia Incubator — the official Wikimedia Foundation’s test wiki platform — required collaboration between Atikamekw elders from different communities, Wikimedia Canada, and project leaders to develop approximately 800 translations (neologisms) of the Wikipedia interface itself into the Atikamekw language. In 2016, Wikipetcia Atikamekw Nehiromowin was ready to be transferred from the incubator to the public page and has since been continuously developed. Currently, more than 1,200 articles have been published.
The main goal of the project is the maintenance of the Atikamekw language in the technical age. However, cultural maintenance, pedagogical achievements, revaluation of the Atikamekw values, and philosophy and lessons learned from the collaboration of teachers, pupils, local language experts, other local voluntary contributors, and academics are additional positive outcomes of the project.
The project has been popular with its target audience: Atikamekw First Nations members in the three Atikamekw communities. It has been covered by regional, federal, and international news and has been presented at different academic and nonacademic conferences (see “Tipatcimoctakewina”). In 2020, the project won the Emerging Open Scholarship Award conferred by the Canadian Social Knowledge Institute. Today, Wikipetcia Atikamekw Nehiromowin is run only by members of the Atikamekw Nation and is a model of how to successfully create an open-source encyclopedia in a minority language with the goal of preserving it (Wikimedia Foundation 2017). The main team behind the project is the “Wikiclub Metapeckeka.”
Dinnison, Bonnie (1997): Guide orthographique de la langue atikamekw. La Tuque: Atikamekw Sipi.
Herold, Nastasia (2019): “Kulturbedingte Herausforderungen für schulische und gesellschaftliche Teilhabe in indigenen Reservaten Kanadas: Das Beispiel des Atikamekw-Dorfes Manawan in Québec,” in: Jahr, David / Kruschel, Robert (eds.): Inklusion in Kanada. Internationale Perspektiven auf heterogenitätssensible Bildung. Weinheim: Beltz Juventa 92-106.
Herold, Nastasia (2021): “La situation linguistique bilingue dans la communauté atikamekw de Manawan – La consolidation d’une langue minoritaire,” in: Recherches amérindiennes au Québec, N.N. [submitted].
INAC (11/03/2020): Tribal Council Detail. Atikamekw Sipi – Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw <https://fnp-ppn.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/fnp/Main/ Search/TCMain.aspx?TC_NUMBER=1064&lang=eng> (15/07/2020).
Reichert, Ramón (2017): “Theorien digitaler Medien,” in: Jannidis, Fotis / Kohle, Hubertus / Rehbein, Malte (eds.): Digital Humanities. Eine Einführung. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler 19-34.
Wikimedia Foundation (23/12/2017): Wikimania 2017. Submissions/Indigenous Knowledge on Wikipedia: Lessons Learned from the Project Wikipetia Atikamekw Nehiromowin <https://wikimania2017.wikimedia.org/wiki/Submissions/Indigenous_Knowledge_on_Wikipedia:_Lessons_Learned_from_the_Project_Wikipetia_Atikamekw_Nehiromowin> (01/10/2019).
Melissa S. Stoner
The Atikamekw First Nation are located in the Canadian province of Quebec. Atikamekw is the first language the majority of community members speak. Their second language is French. At first glance the Wikipeticia Atikamekw Nehiromowin looks like any other Wikipedia page in a non-English or tribal language. However, upon closer inspection it is apparent that the authors, creators, and readers of this page are a unique group among Wikipedia users. The content comes from an unusual partnership between different generations of a tribal community. The project is meaningful because not only is it a powerful resource for the community, it also speaks to the importance of Indigenous cultural knowledge and the evolution of sharing that knowledge in a digital space.
In many Indigenous communities, the dissemination of tribal knowledge is primarily oral. Any news, announcements or events may be dispersed through newspapers, newsletters, group social media pages, or tribal radio. Often there are no formal systems or processes for dispersing tribal language or cultural information at all. It is inspiring to see a First Nations community utilize Wikipedia as a way to sustain their language and knowledge. This could be a model for other tribal and First Nations communities.
Tribal communities are all concerned with how to best sustain their cultural and linguistic knowledge and share it with their younger generations. With the development of content management systems, many universities and museums have shared digitized tribal knowledge, frequently without tribal consent. For tribes that want to create their own digital archives, high financial costs and significant training are required to create and maintain digital platforms. Wikipedia provides the tools for smaller tribes or tribes with limited resources to create and control access to tribal knowledge online.
The act of sharing knowledge is particularly important to Indigenous communities given the intergenerational trauma of “salvage anthropology,” where many tribal stories and language teachings were taken through coercion and manipulation. This tribal Wikipedia page offers something different. Younger, more tech-savvy tribal members edit the tribal Wikipedia page, adding content taught to them by tribal elders. Since the content is all presented in the tribal language, this creates a safeguard to protect sensitive cultural knowledge. Tribal elders helped with the transcription of the Atikamekw language.
Using Wikipedia as the tribe’s digital platform democratizes the preservation of cultural knowledge. In universities and museums, a limited number of professional staff are normally designated platform administrators. The Society of American Archivists recently inaugurated a Native Archival Repatriation Committee. In some ways, Wikipedia bypasses this historical gatekeeping of tribal knowledge by universities and museums by allowing and empowering tribal communities to be contributors to preserving their cultural knowledge. This model puts the control of cultural knowledge in the hands of tribal communities, the real experts, not outside scholars from universities or museums. So far, there are few tribal Wikipedia pages written in a tribal language. The Wikipedia model seems like a great opportunity to involve tribal members of all generations in sustaining their culture.