Heather Steinhagen, sitting for a photo at Kwanlun Dun Cultural Centre on April 17, 2018, is part of the collaborative project dubbed “Indigenizing Wikipedia.” (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse-based project aims to Indigenize Wikipedia

‘It’s just taking the initiative to … do the writing’

Wikipedia, often the first stop for many an online researcher, is known for having a page dedicated to almost anything and anyone — but try searching, say, “Council of Yukon First Nations,” or “Dorothy Wabisca,” and you’ll come up empty-handed.

Content about prominent Yukon First Nations figures, organizations and events can be hard to come by on the popular crowd-sourced internet encyclopedia, but a Whitehorse-based initiative is hoping to change that.

Dubbed “Indigenizing Wikipedia,” the project is a collaborative effort between artist Valerie Salez and former Yukon Arts Centre intern Heather Steinhagen. Its goal is to get Yukoners together to create or expand Wikipedia pages on topics related to Yukon First Nations in order to make local knowledge more accessible and readily available to the world.

Salez said she first noticed the lack of Yukon First Nations’ Wikipedia content while she was doing research for her project, Conversations, which is based on a document she found in the archives of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation’s heritage department. The document outlines a 1977 meeting between then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and five Yukon First Nations leaders on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline but Salez said that when she tried to find more information about people or events surrounding the meeting online, she found almost nothing.

“I was really kind of surprised at first and bugged by this,” Salez said.

Inspired by “Wiki-thons” in the arts world, where people get together to collectively research and write about women artists missing from Wikipedia, Salez approached YAC and suggested that a similar kind of initiative could be undertaken for Yukon First Nations in connection with Conversations.

Steinhagen, who was doing an internship at YAC at the time, came on as project coordinator and came up with the “Indigenizing Wikipedia” title. Together with the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, she organized an inaugural event, which she described as “drop-in style,” for April 28. There will be computers on site, although participants are encouraged to bring their laptops, and volunteers will be present to help coordinate everyone’s efforts at informal research, writing, editing and posting stations.

“It’s really more of a conversational (event) — we want to get people together and (researching) prominent Yukon First Nations people, organizations and groups together,” Steinhagen said.

“Everything on Wikipedia needs to come through a secondary source and a lot of the information we might have are through oral traditions, so we’re really just trying to find ways to incorporate that type of knowledge … it’s just taking the initiative to sit down and look at the books and gather the information and do the writing.”

Steinhagen added that “Indigenizing Wikipedia” is meant to be an ongoing effort, with events scheduled in July and December, when Conversations opens at YAC.

Salez said that attendees will be welcome to write about any and all Yukon First Nations people, not necessarily just high-profile leaders or historical figures.

“If anybody wants to write about their auntie, about their grandma, the uncle who is the best caribou hunter and caught the biggest caribou and he’s the best at teaching everyone in town how to dry meat, that’s as important if we’re going to Indigenize (Wikipedia),” she said.

“I don’t think it needs to be the big, important roles only.”

Indigenizing Wikipedia will be held at the KDCC on April 28 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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