Mukurtu in Practice

The Plateau People’s Web Portal front page

The response to Mukurtu from practitioners has been overwhelmingly positive, especially in regards to its use of Traditional Knowledge Labels. There are some criticisms regarding the present scope of the platform, which is not well-suited hosting multimedia, according to some users. In general, however, Mukurtu users highlight the commitment to inclusivity and representation as key improvements over existing knowledge organization systems.

Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Erin Hughes provides support as a Hub manager, overseeing Mukurtu training to tribal and non-tribal archives in the Midwest. She writes, “the ability to apply cultural protocols to materials and the knowledge surrounding the materials has been missing from the information technology landscape.” Writing from personal experience, Hughes is able to contextualize Mukurtu as a user on the institutional side, advocating further. “It is giving me the opportunity to help empower indigenous communities and lets me discuss how museums, archives, and libraries can better serve this communities,” she says.

Elsewhere, the Traditional Knowledge (TK) Labels introduced by Mukurtu has spurred several instructional write-ups from the academy regarding what they are and how to use them. While the Mukurtu team has published its own schedule, it is instructive that TK Labels have inspired further advocacy tutorials regarding their use. Writing from the University of Illinois iSchool, J. Kirby begins his TK Label explainer by saying that “Fans of Mukurtu CMS, a digital archaeology platform, as well as intellectual property nerds may already be familiar with Traditional Knowledge labels and licenses, but for everyone else here’s a quick introduction,” before launching into a thorough and invigorating explanation.

Mukurtu does have critics in the academy, however, who have pointed out that it currently lacks substantive support for the cataloging of multimedia digital ephemera such as audio and video. In a 2017 review of Mukurtu, Michael Shepard of the University of British Columbia writes that the platform is “best suited for print media, such as images and documents, not audio and video.” He continues, “the CMS has great potential for innovative use in language preservation, but at least in the present version, the functionality limits its efficacy.”

While response from the academy could be found easily, response from indigenous groups virtually is nonexistent beyond blurbs on the Mukurtu main site. There could be several reasons for this. More than likely this reflects a lack of reliable Internet access in geographic areas where indigenous groups live. Presently, however, this lack of an indigenous voice in the public-facing spheres reflects a problematic underrepresentation of non-dominant cultures already endemic to the archival professional field.

What can be done to remedy this? The contemporary Hubs and Spokes model intends to decentralize the platform and empower regional managers to advocate for the CMS and train local practitioners. The ever-present conundrum of outreach is addressed through digital literacy training. However, no present narrative from the indigenous group point of view has been cataloged. The Hubs and Spokes grant award cycle completes this year in 2019, and the white paper produced from the project should reveal some input from trainees and users. At the very least this would help close the loop on the inclusive spirit that Mukurtu champions.

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