• Students from Leonora District High School in WA were thrilled to take out second prize for their video game idea. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Digital gaming technology harnessed by First Nations students to foster Indigenous knowledges and preserve culture and language.
Claudia Farhart

13 Aug 2019 - 11:45 AM  UPDATED 13 Aug 2019 - 11:45 AM

About 100 Indigenous Australian and New Zealander students gathered in Sydney last week to use their technology skills to help save Indigenous languages.

Hosted by Indigi Lab, the inaugural Indigi Hack hackathon set a group of bright eight to 18-year-olds a challenging task – develop an app that helps retain Indigenous languages.

The hackathon ended with an awards night on Friday that saw $10,000 in prize money handed out to help the students develop their ideas.

New Zealand girl Kaea Hakaraia-Hosking, who took home top prize, came up with a game that teaches younger children about Indigenous language and culture as well as global issues like climate change.

The 15-year-old from Otaki said her video game was inspired by The Wizard of Oz and alien invasion games.

“So, the player would just be Dorothy, for example, and they’d follow the little path that goes through a country,” she said.

“The main focus is the player being able to learn the language of a given area and the cultural practices, and learning about that culture and their problems too, and the player will use the knowledge they gain from the language and the practices to defeat the aliens.”

As the player moves along the path and learns language, they earn ‘coins’ they can then use to purchase a "good doing" to help defeat the aliens.

The Australians keeping their Indigenous languages alive
More than 250 Indigenous languages exist in Australia, but only 13 are believed to be being taught to the next generation. In the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages, elders are urging state and federal governments to do more.

Kaea won $5000 to help her develop her idea further.

In second place was a group of eight to 12-year-olds from the small town of Leonora in Western Australia.

The Leonora District High School students came up with another game to help people learn Indigenous languages.

“We came up with the idea of having a game where you go out bush and you use resources and you earn tokens by doing activities as well as learning different languages,” the group said.

“It’s important for people to learn languages so they’re not endangered and they’re out there for people to learn.”

Te Ākauroa Jacob, also from Otaki in New Zealand, took home the special Jankaji award.

Jankaji means ‘a wealth of knowledge’, and was awarded to the student who showed exceptional knowledge of their culture. 

“I came up with a word game which is based on Word Cookies and Wordscapes – so you swipe some letters to make up words – and that was my idea to promote my language,” Te Ākauroa said.

“Without language – it’s a bit like – it’s who you are. And if you don’t know your language, then you’re missing out. And I think it’s really important that you know where you’re from.”

The students developed their ideas throughout the week with a group of mentors that included Susan Beetson. Ms Beetson said the only way to describe the students’ efforts was “awesome”.

“I was truly impressed – some had the skills that they were able to create from an artistic perspective, the backgrounds, but to really ideate around getting story and sharing language was phenomenal,” she said.

“It was truly from a cultural space, connecting Elders into the digital space, and Elders sharing story and children incorporating that into games or lots of games or educational apps as well.”

Ms Beetson said she hopes to see the event grow even larger over the coming years.

“I was sitting there imagining it moving around to different cities all around Australia and perhaps around the world. But I think here in Australia firstly we’re going to reach awesome heights.”

The fight to keep Australia’s Indigenous languages from disappearing forever
A celebration of languages spoken by Indigenous communities is the focus of this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.