Sometimes I just have to write – amongst the growing list of things to do. I must write because somehow writing it makes it real. No, you reading it makes it real. It’s also me trying to catch a breath in those fleeting moments of quiet late at night when I’m done with everything else, or more truthfully when it’s become time to put other things aside. Just for a moment to gather my thoughts, process my emotions and remind myself that this is real. Digital Custodians is real. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women leading change in the tech industry is real. It’s never been more real than today when I saw their beautiful names in a spreadsheet ready for their plane tickets to Sydney to be booked.
In 1 week, 31 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women will be travelling from the remote communities of Gibb River, Fitzroy Crossing, Wajul Wajul, Hammond Island, Thursday Island, Bamaga and Olkola. We are also being joined by two incredible women from the Dine` Navajo Nation (USA), and the Tlingit Nation (Canada) who have been strong advocates for digital change in their own countries.
I am grateful. Mostly this initiative has been led by incredible women, with the support of a few strong men including Ben Bowen, Sean Appoo, Neil Gordon, Stephen Worrall, Ant Frank, Marcus Hughes, Kris Butler, Robert Fitzgerald, Omar Khalifa and Desmond Tayley. I am humbled by these men too, because it’s not easy to stand beside 35 women who are motivated to lead change! You didn’t just get out of our way – you used your connections, resources and knowledge to help us.
It’s a beautiful moment to just reflect because I can’t tell you enough how deeply I’m affected by these women choosing to leave their Country and travel thousands of kilometres to step up and lead, to make change for our Peoples in technology futures.
There are so many reasons to do this work, least not to change the dialogue about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in technology. The reality is our world is changing quickly, and often the social license for technology systems is set in urban areas long before they trickle in to our regional, rural and remote communities. I’ve been on a mission to change this for a long time – six years actually. I have had a strong vision that our Peoples’ access to technologies and future technology development shouldn’t be impaired because of our remoteness or perceived barriers about our ability to learn future skills.
It became so clear to me with the construction of the Square Kilometre Array, autonomous mines in the Pilbara and remote satellite launching stations in the remote northern Territory that digital exclusion based on locality is a myth. Our App proved that technology development skills transfer to other Aboriginal Peoples in remote areas is essential for our peoples’ to work in future economies. Acknowledgement of projects such as the Earth Bank of Codes, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies honing in on remote Indigenous communities and their lands has demonstrated the urgent need to get our Peoples across Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property as it relates to digital genomes and blockchain economies.
So, what’s getting in the way of our Peoples’ leading the charge in technologies? Access to future skills and a sense of what’s possible, probable and profitable.
Digital Custodians has been designed by Shared Path Aboriginal Corporation, Microsoft Philanthropies, and Indigital to address these barriers. Over the next 9 months, we will, with the help of our friends at MAAS, Charles Darwin University, Terri Janke and Company, and the on-country organisations of Mura Kosker Sorority Inc, Kimberly Land Council, Olkola Aboriginal Corporation, Winun Ngari Aboriginal Corporation and Wajul Wajul Council work with these women on their technology project designs and development, and I’m certain we will learn a tonne along the way also.
The coming together of people working together is so important, so while it costs a lot to bring people across the world together, the lasting connections we share in this first week will serve us for the rest of our lives as we continue to build our own futures, augmented with future skills on Country.
I’m so excited for it all to start that I can’t sleep.
There is one person who hasn’t been mentioned yet who deserves a heart-felt shout out, especially from me. You have been there for me on this journey, through late nights and early mornings, media highs, answering questions, and connecting me with others. I call you so much the AI in my phone thinks you are related to me. Tianji Dickens you are an absolute Rockstar my friend. This program is as much you as it is Sean, Ben and I. I remember when you first asked what I would do if I could be resourced, and I said ‘build the capability of other Indigenous Women to know more than I do about technology; and to achieve much more than I have for them, their families and their communities’. Thanks to you, and with the grateful support of Microsoft, we are doing it.