• Kurdiji 1.0 – An app by Australian Indigenous Elders designed to save young Indigenous lives (Dr Judith Crispin )
Warlpiri elders from the remote town of Lajamanu are developing an app which incorporates one of the world's oldest cultures with the newest technology in a bid to tackle suicide amongst Indigenous youth.
By
Laura Morelli

11 Apr 2017 - 5:27 PM  UPDATED 12 Apr 2017 - 2:05 PM

Warlpiri elder, Wanta Jampijinpa (Steve Patrick) works and lives in Lajamanu, a small town located around 557 kilometres from Katherine, in the Northern Territory.

In 2005, there was a stone cold silence surrounding the tight knit remote community, when a young man took his own life.

“That one suicide didn’t fit in with the ceremony so everyone had blank faces everywhere and didn’t know what to do or how to deal with it,” Wanta said.

“That’s the sort of stuff suicide does, it leaves a community in despair.”

In a bid to tackle suicide and help Indigenous youth reconnect to culture, he and other local Warlpiri elders are devising new and engaging ways to interact with children and prevent suicide.

The creation of the Kurdiji 1.0 app represents a turning point in Aboriginal Australia. Elders know life is changing fast and they also know there is so much their lore and culture has to offer to their children.

Kurdijii is a Warlpiri word meaning 'to shield or protect'. For thousands of years the idea of kurdijii has been used to empower young people.

Milpirri festival was established in 2005 to spread the traditional ideas of ‘Kurdiji’ among their young people and to foster a sense of belonging. But now, Lajamanu wants to bring kurdijii into the digital age with a community created app based on traditional stories and ceremonies, designed to support young people build and maintain resilience and self-worth. 

“If you don’t have culture you are lost. If you don’t have your story to identify with your clan group and country, you are homeless in your own home.”

Kurdiji 1.0 is the first app of its kind, to have Indigenous elders leading the way and working at the forefront. To help guide, create and empower youth, ultimately using the world’s oldest culture with the newest technology.

Wanta, also the artistic director of the Milpirri festival of Indigenous music and dance says now with just the touch of a button, the community’s aim is to bring kids back home so they can learn about their culture and connection to land despite their whereabouts.

“If you don’t have culture you are lost. If you don’t have your story to identify with your clan group and country, you are homeless in your own home,” he said.

When people feel lost, they’re not afraid to take their own life, so if we were work on bringing them home again and learn their story then hopefully there will be a better sense of connection.”

The community has partnered with an expert team, including technologists, photographers and psychologists, where they can bring traditions from an old ceremony and put them in a digital form.

Dr Fiona Shand, a researcher and clinical psychologist at the Black Dog Institute focuses on e-health interventions to prevent suicide and says there’s real promise heading with a digital platform.

“I think it’s really testing the idea that’s strongly held in Indigenous communities whereby if you connect with culture and identity its protective,”

“For any kind of digital platform it’s about reducing barriers around shame and accessibility… but for this app it’s about taking what the community believes is effective from their festival such as Milperra and making that content far more accessible.” 

"We might not be saving everybody, but we're sending out a strong message."

Renowned actor Uncle Jack Charles has jumped on board as a strong voice to inspire Indigenous youth. He says ‘our young people are hurting and we cannot ignore their pain any longer.’

“Young Aboriginal people are four times more likely to take their own life than their non-Aboriginal peers. The suicide rate of young Aboriginal men is the highest in the world. I know they’re suffering but I also know, even when we feel broken, healing is possible.”

Cultural historian, photographer and long-time friend of Wanta, Dr Judith Crispin has spent months living in Lajamanu and working with the Warlpiri community. She says this is a small project making a huge difference.

“To see a small group of nine Warlpiri people, with no money or no resources say ‘this is our responsibility to save our young ones’, is so moving…That’s why I’m trying to help – we might not be saving everybody but we're sending out a strong message,” she said.

“When a young person is in trouble – they don’t have time to speak to someone about it, but if they’ve got this app, they can connect with an Indigenous elder or get information about ceremony, culture and identity… so this is about quick and easy access in times of desperate need.”

Matthew Andrews moved away from his hometown in Lajamanu 20 years ago. It's been more than 10 years since he has seen elders from his remote community. Now working and living in the busy city of Sydney, he believes an app like this needs to be developed.

"For any young Indigenous person that has moved away from the community, but still wants to have some sort of connection to their roots, they will now be able to without the financial stress attached to having to return back to country. The reality of it is, travelling on a regular basis is not an easy expense to pay for," he says.

"I felt like I was losing my connection to my culture, so this app would help me build a temporary bridge until the next time I'm able to visit my country."

"Past and present elders have had to worry that culture will be lost over time, considering a great number of Indigenous youth move away from community and have stopped learning traditions, but it's exciting an app like this will now exist."

Matthew says the only way he was able to learn culture was by word of mouth, not written documents. 

"An app like this is important, not just for Indigenous males but for the wider Australian community because I believe something like this could help work towards closing the gap," he said.

"I felt like I was losing my connection to my culture, so this app would help me build a temporary bridge until the next time I'm able to visit my country."

Oldest culture mixed with newest technology

Drew Baker, a technologist working in cultural heritage and archaeology says he’s using skills to not only build the app, but train elders so they can run the project.

“Normally I’m working with cultures that are dead - Ancient Rome, Greece, but this is a real chance to work with a living culture and use those skills in digital humanity and make a real difference,” he said.

“We're using the newest technology to work out different solutions to enhance this project. Things that are cost effective and simple to use. It’s not just us doing the work, but helping the community get involved by giving them back the skills so they can run their own project."

Drew Baker says these are just some of the latest technological features that will be included in the Kurdiji 1.0 app.

3D Motion Capture

“This is one of the most interesting elements we're using! Here lightweight suits record hand movements for sign language, as well as dance and ceremony. The motion capture technology is affordable and practical. 3D scanning will be used to create models of actual things and people too.”

Photogrammetry

“This will be used in a way where you take a series of photographs and the device can determine the environment. So here we will give the Indigenous community a camera and tell them to take 20 photographs of an object and then we can generate a 3D object to replicate the one in the actual community.”

Structure From Motion

“This works similarly to that of photogrammetry, but this time instead of photographs, community members will film an object or location which can be replicated. We will use cheap drones so we can record film and process that film to try and rebuild models replicating community.”

Warlpiri communities have a long history of engaging with technology. They’ve recently produced a digital storybook, which communicates their ideas about land management, and have collaborated in the production of a large number of films. 

Wanta says the community is ready for something new, and that working with others to create an app is just an extension of the Warlpiri way of reaching out to people through technology.

“You can steal the boy from his home but you can’t steal the home from the boy.”

“We’ve got to do something; we can’t just watch everything fall down around us,” he said.

“It’s important to have an Indigenous led app because we need to show a good example and help prevent suicides, we need to work together to make a difference.”

The app is based on part of the Wandadai Darri, which is a gift road dance ceremony that stretches from one end of Australia to another - the ultimate trading route where you share gifts. It belongs to everyone so it needs to be accessible to each and every one of you.

Wanta says it all comes down to Ngurrakurlu (the home within – you are your home).

“You can steal the boy from his home but you can’t steal the home from the boy.”

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