ICTs and indigenous people

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Asia contains the majority, about 70 percent, of the world’s present-day indigenous populations. Indigenous peoples continue to feature among the least-served sections of many societies. They face a diverse range of issues and concerns associated with their status and interaction with other cultural groups, and changes in their inhabited environment. Issues include cultural and linguistic preservation, land rights, ownership and exploitation of natural resources, political determination and autonomy, environmental degradation and incursion, poverty, health, and discrimination.

At the same time, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the form of community-based telecentres are rapidly spreading into the rural and sometimes isolated areas that are inhabited by such people, offering them opportunities to deal with some of these issues.  Many countries in Asia are in the process of setting up national networks of rural telecentres with the intention of raising living standards and providing opportunities for underserved sections of society for full and equal participation in their emerging knowledge economies.  Whilst it is commonly understood that technology is essential yet of itself insufficient, the mechanisms for ensuring that desirable outcomes will actually emerge are far from well-understood.  Left to its own devices, technology is fully capable of reinforcing social disparities.

Knowledge fair

In December 2007, as part of the run-up to the 3rd Global Knowledge Conference, the e-Bario Knowledge Fair will present the experience of a very remote indigenous community as it adapts to and integrates ICTs as a basis for its social, economic and cultural development. The Knowledge Fair will be held in the remote village of Bario, in the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak, one of the East Malaysian states on the island of Borneo.   It will allow those from outside the community to experience first hand daily life in Bario. This is a unique event, organised to bring researchers and practitioners into face-to-face dialogue with the indigenous people of Bario; the beneficiaries of the e-Bario project. It is expected that the opportunity for such two-way direct learning will be of considerable benefit and interest not only to the community but also to other similar communities and NGOs, administrators, researchers, practitioners and policy makers.

Cultural events and workshops will be scheduled into the programme.  Further excursions are also available, principally trekking and adventure trips into the surrounding forested highlands.  The e-Bario Knowledge Fair is also an opportunity to generate collaborative proposals for longer term research involving the Kelabit community, their use of ICTs and the surrounding environment.  The people of Bario welcome opportunities to host activities by outside researchers that support their development aims.  There are many local resources to facilitate such research; including the e-Bario telecentre, skilled staff and adequate accommodation and logistical arrangements.

Research colloquium

The purpose of the Knowledge Fair and research colloquium is to share the experiences of e-Bario and the indigenous Kelabit people in order to accelerate its own rate of contribution to community development as well as the progress of other similar initiatives worldwide.   The research colloquium will bring together a range of stakeholders; indigenous peoples, researchers, policy makers, donor organisations, development agencies and practitioners along with the UNDP’s Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP) and the UNDP Regional Initiative on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Development in the Asia Pacific (RIPP). }

The focus will be on Information and Communication Technologies for Indigenous Peoples (ICT4IPs) and will present e-Bario as a case study to illuminate the broad issues relating to the use of ICT4IPs. The colloquium format will be a combination of presentations and panel discussions that will include peer-reviewed papers. Contributions are invited, initially in the form of abstracts dealing with among other areas:

  • The role of telecentres in development in remote and rural areas,
  • ICTs, community informatics and development among indigenous and rural and remote populations,
  • Evaluation and impact assessment for rural ICT
  • ICTs, and indigenous culture.

The research colloquium will focus on the social appropriation of ICTs by underserved rural and indigenous people, within the context of the e-Bario project and its impact on the Kelabit people of Malaysia.  Topics to be addressed will include, but need not be limited to the following:

 The e-Bario Telecentre as a case study of ICTs for Indigenous Peoples

  • History and operation of the e-Bario project and other ICT4IP projects.
  • Technology for ICTs in remote locations and community informatics
  • Telecentre operations.
  • Community participation
  • Challenges and lessons learned.
  • Finances and sustainability.

 Replicating e-Bario and ICTs4IP

  • National contexts for bridging the digital divide.
  • Lessons learned for rural development with ICTs.

 The Cultural and Economic Context of e-Bario and ICT4IP

  • ICTs and the Kelabit culture.
  • Prospects; ICTs for cultural, social and economic enrichment of the Kelabits and other indigenous peoples.
  • Implications for indigenous peoples.
  • E-commerce in highland commodities.

 The Impact of e-Bario and ICTs4IP

  • Highland tourism for ecological conservation.
  • Potential for income-generation from tourism.
  • Avoiding the negative impacts of tourism.
  • Impact of the internet on education.
  • Use of computers at the schools in Bario and other indigenous peoples
  • e-Bario & the clinic; the impact on health care for IP’s.
  • Social communications.
  • Publicity & awards; influence on public policy.
  • Stories from e-Bario; impact on social, economic and cultural aspects of life.
  • ICTs and indigenous Peoples
  • Rural telecentres
  • ICTs for rural development
  • Bridging the digital divide
  • e-Inclusion for the underserved
  • Globalisation and voices of the poor
  • ICTs, culture and the environment
  • Policy implications

Keynote speakers: research colloquium

Dr. Michael Gurstein: Dr. Michael Gurstein is widely recognized for his work in the development and definition of community informatics as the area of research and practice concerned with enabling and empowering communities through the use of Information and Communications Technology.  His book “Community Informatics: Enabling Communities with Information and Communications Technologies”: (Idea Group, 2000) provided a focal point for the emergence of Community Informatics as the research and praxis discipline underpinning the social appropriation of ICT.

Professor Heather E. Hudson: Professor Heather Hudson is Director of the Telecommunications Management and Policy Program in the School of Business and Management at the University of San Francisco.  Professor Hudson’s recent publications include “From Rural Village to Global Village: Telecommunications for Development in the Information Age”, published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, January 2006.


The event is intended to initiate a global network of indigenous peoples’ telecentres. Bario is accessed by air from Miri, in Sarawak, Malaysia.  The approximate total cost for the colloquium is estimated at around US$150, which will include conference registration with 3 days accommodation and meals in Bario and return transportation by chartered aircraft from Miri to Bario.  Air connections may require an overnight stay at the registrant’s cost in one or both directions in Miri, depending on flight schedules.  Hotel accommodation can be had in Miri for US$25 per night upwards.

Approximate return air fare from Kuala Lumpur to Miri is estimated at between US$80 and US$380 depending on choice of airline (i.e. Air Asia or Malaysian Airlines).  For international travellers who may be attending the 3rd Global Knowledge Partnership Conference GK3 in Kuala Lumpur, the additional cost to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Miri may be negligible, depending on your airline and starting point.  Delegates will stay in local lodgings, which are clean and comfortable, and which will provide a taste of the local culture and life-style, as well as contributing to the local economy.

The event is supported by the following organisations:

  • UNDP Regional Indigenous Peoples Programme (RIPP)
  • UNDP Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP)
  • Malaysian Airline System
  • Centre for Community Informatics Research, Training and Development
  • Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
  • Center for Integrative Conservation Research, University of Georgia
  • Roger Harris Associates (Hong Kong)

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