Image: Luke Briscoe, Manager of the Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) program at NCIE. In this article he reflects on the ways that access to technology can be a positive for our bodies, minds and keeping culture strong.

By Luke Briscoe

First, I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, on whose land I wrote this article and pay my respects to Elders both past and present.

The Lockdown Experience

Let’s face it, 2020 was a year that has definitely left a mark on the world. It was also a year where the use of technology to connect, share and do business became the new social norm.

As a father of two girls (12 and 6), I found it hard to ensure the health and wellbeing of my kids during lockdown in Sydney, which now seems to have ended (fingers crossed and touch wood). My kids are active, and, at the time, my family and I were living in a small two-bedroom apartment in the city with no luxuries such as pools and gyms to keep us busy.

For a while we were really starting to stress each other out and we were all feeling mentally and physically exhausted. I decided that we needed to all do morning exercise, so we agreed to do virtual yoga most mornings. The daily inclusion of virtual yoga was added to our daily COVID routine and in a matter of days we felt happier and more physically and mentally connected as a family.

As the weeks went by, we were all becoming very complacent and really missing the physical connection with country. Seeing images of our family enjoying the luxuries of fishing, camping, and swimming only made us miss being on country even more. We almost decided to move to north Queensland as we wanted to be connected to our country, before my family started a group chat on Facebook so we could all keep up to date with the impacts of COVID.

Luke and his family.

The family video calls became a new weekly norm and before we knew it our kid’s birthdays were upon us, so we, like many other families here and across the globe had virtual COVID birthdays. This is something we now still do today in family video chats.

As the COVID lockdown dragged on, our lounge room became the focal point of fitness, entertainment, cultural connections and eating. We were getting sick of the same boring lounge. I had read a couple of articles and research papers around the use of colour for relaxation and wellness, so I decided to order six colour-changing WIFI lights online for each room and lamp and bathrooms. This meant that we could change light to reflect a positive or relaxed mode. Once I activated the lights, I linked it up with Google Home so even my little girl could change the colour of the room.

The WIFI lights did not blow my budget and worked a treat but there was one more wellness issue we needed to solve: connection to country. As mentioned earlier, our kids love the outdoors and going swimming, fishing, and camping was not an option, so the next best thing was going virtual. I purchased a Virtual Reality (VR) headset and downloaded some great VR content that provided connection to country. One of the VR videos was one I had created for Park NSW WilderQuest program called 360 Aboriginal Storytelling. It featured Aboriginal Rangers sharing their language and culture while exploring country in VR.

I wanted to share my COVID experience with others, not to show how deadly we were managing the lockdown, but rather highlight how hard it was to maintain an adequate level of health and wellbeing during lockdown. We all need to reflect and think about low-income earners and what type of internet and technology access they have to connect to culture in a way my kids did during lockdown. We truly need to think about how a lack of connection to culture and country would have impacted on the health and wellbeing of First Nations communities in the cities and in particular the thousands of Elders in home care across the major cities.

First Nations Resilience in Crisis Situations

First Nations People think about resilience and sustainability in the same way and when you look at ways our communities manage land, the two go hand-in-hand. Indigenous knowledge can provide an understanding to how the old people protected and maintained resilient ecosystems – ecosystems that enables many species to survive other catastrophic events, beyond colonisation. But perhaps it’s a resilience in ourselves that we need to address in that, we aren’t above nature, but we are one with nature.

Policy makers need to pay attention to First Nations communities’ responses to and effective communication of COVID-19 from the very beginning of the pandemic. When impacts of COVID-19 were realised in March 2020, First Nations health services had already developed an action plan in February to ensure the risk of COVID-19 spread was managed in First Nations communities. When we consider responses to crisis, First Nations communities are quick to come together and show true resilience. These models are very aligned with the need to connect people to country and culture. Policy planners need to consider and reflect on First Nations management of crisis more closely.

The IDX FLINT program supports communities to connect with country through tech.

During the COVID lockdown, the Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) team showed true resilience and leadership around digital connectedness to keep culture strong. I stand proud seeing how First Nations organisations stand tall in the face of adversity and innovate out of necessity. During 2020, the IDX team and the broader IDX community brought people together to strategize ways in which technology can be used to ensure the health and wellbeing of First Nations communities.

As governments and policy makers are forced to act around health equity, they must consider the role of technology and how it can allow equal access and equal level of connectedness to each person on the planet. Besides, access to the internet is meant to be a human right so there needs to be more support from government, industries, and institutions to make the internet and digital devices accessible to all.

Languages and culture are the building blocks to health and wellbeing for First Nations Peoples. If we can’t practice language and culture, we lose identity and purpose. This is where technology is linked to health equity. Policy makers must understand that there is a direct link between wellbeing and culture and plan accordingly to ensure First Nations communities living in urban areas have adequate access to the internet and online cultural resources.

Access to the internet and information communications and technologies are important to ensuring the quality of life within the 21st Century, and it is also a human right. Some benefits of equitable online access include transforming society for good, improving our mutual understanding, eliminating power differentials, realising a truly free and democratic world society.

The road to digital inclusion

Our First Nations Communities have been amazingly adaptive and creative with new media technologies, applying them to their own lifeways and maintaining cultural boundaries rather than simply assimilating into the dominant social order. Communities that survived the cataclysmic forces of colonisation are now telling their stories and constructing new forms of cultural power in the digital age. IDX is a shining example of how technology can be used to bring communities together.

COVD-19 has really tested our human experiences with the internet and technologies and it has provided us with an opportunity to reflect and act to ensure an adequate level of health and wellbeing using tech during global crises.

So, when people have asked me to reflect on the 2020, I just say that year in general showed us all that humanity needed a reset button, but it is up to us to make the necessary changes for the reset to have a positive impact.

– Luke Briscoe is a proud Kuku-Yalanji man from Far North Queensland. He is the Manager of the Indigenous Digital Excellence program (IDX) based at NCIE in Redfern.