Meeting notes: Marginalized Community Council, 9 Aug 2019

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Digital activism has been phenomenal in growing awareness and building resources and support system for marginalized communities around the world. We identify this as an extremely important cause and thought of bringing together some of the key individuals from different marginalized communities who are working towards digital activism of issues that are important to their own communities. This led to our recent formation of the Marginalised Community Council (MCC), an online working group of such key stakeholders — digital activists, researchers, technologists and more.

As a collaborative platform, MCC will work towards policy advocacy and building media, technical and educational resources for representing communities. We’re in the very early stage of having a wider representation from many communities around the world and the current group consists of 15 members from 4 different countries. Our volunteer members are Wikimedians, researchers, activists and students.

Our first and the inaugural meeting was held on August 9, 2019 to celebrate the International day of the world’s Indigenous people. The primary goal was to hear and flag about some of the critical needs for preserving and promoting the respective indigenous language that our members speak and work for.

The four-points stream:

Members discussed about four high-level areas to give a full picture of the status quo of the indigenous languages they are working on and various issues those languages face in terms of being used on a digital space:

  1. Identifying the challenges faced by many indigenous languages locally and globally, offline and online
  2. Areas these languages need immediate intervention
  3. Recommendations based on prior experience
  4. Best possible ways to contribute towards different initiatives taken by the members

The members discussed about marginalization of communities in the following areas: 

  1. Hidden community cultures and languages because of low population of native speakers (sometimes a handful speakers)
  2. Geopolitically-marginalized communities
  3. Socially marginalized communities
  4. Under-represented due to lack of knowledge, resources and support

Highlights from some of the indigenous languages: 

  • One of the members from Nepal raised the issues related to the Tharu language, which has constitutional recognition but is yet to be implemented in educational system—this force students to learn only Nepalese, the state’s official language.
  • Many indigenous languages do not have vital linguistic resources like text corpus and input methods. Lack of awareness within the community and government support they have not come out to public platforms till now. 
  • Speakers of some of the indigenous languages like Kusunda are not aware of the means of sharing knowledge in meaningful ways including any digital medium which works against bringing knowledge in the language in common knowledge.
  • “Most indigenous languages have a tragic decline because of the lack of effort in preserving and documenting”, one member said citing the example Tai and Karbi languages from Assam.

The members also emphasized on four broader ways that could help bridge the aforementioned gaps:

  1. Helping communities build educational resources for marginalized communities
  2. Working closely with communities to help gain political power so that they could influence in policy-making in favor of the protection and wider use of indigenous languages
  3. Spreading awareness about the marginalized culture and heritage on mass media and popular social media platforms
  4. Building technical resources that will help communities effectively share knowledge in their native languages

Way forward:

To further our future strategies and work plans, we have opened up two voluntary leadership roles for the MCC members—a Chair to represent MCC and help in consensus-based consolidations and recommendations, and an Operations and Communications Manager to oversee the internal and external communications.

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