Indigitization project

Indigenous communities possess valuable audio and video recordings that document the culture, language, administration and governance processes that are vital to each community. Community recordings often come with traditional rules around who can hear or is allowed access to this knowledge. As older recording formats degrade and become obsolete, it's critical to provide practical resources to support Indigenous communities and organizations in digitizing their recordings.

As part of its Indigenous Languages Technology Project, the NRC provided funding to the Indigitization program at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology (UBC MOA) to expand their digitization toolkits, equipment and the scope of their training courses for Indigenous organizations.



  • Expand toolkits for digitization to include open reel audio, VHS, Beta and camcorder recordings
  • Expand toolkits for digitization to include topics such as inventory planning, file management, collections management, and transcription and translation
  • Create detailed online courses in digitization delivered through UBC's Canvas system
  • Purchase equipment for digitization, and make it available for loan via the X̱wi7x̱wa Library collection: open reel, video cassette and digital camcorder systems


  • Expanded Indigitization Toolkit
  • Digitization equipment for lending
  • Online digitization courses
Figure 1. Gerry Lawson hosts a workshop on digitizing VHS recordings.
Figure 2. The Indigitization program manages and lends specialized equipment for digitizing analog recordings to communities.


Indigenous organizations possess analog media recordings that document their languages and cultural heritage, as well as administration, and governance processes unique and vital to each community. Despite the efforts of colonization to suppress Indigenous culture, Indigenous people have kept their languages alive using covert methods, and recorded them as different technologies became widely available. These community organizations often hold repatriated recordings of their knowledge holders collected by linguists and other scholars using early audio-visual technologies. As much of that analog technology is now becoming obsolete it is more important than ever to migrate these recordings into the digital realm so that Indigenous peoples can continue to do the difficult and important work of revitalizing the language and culture that was nearly stolen from them.

Current language revitalization efforts by remaining speakers and learners are taking hold in Indigenous communities, in both physical and digital spaces. The historic recordings can support revitalization efforts, by exemplifying how the speech used to sound, or how the etymology of a word changed over time and with colonial influences. These are often emotional interactions with the past: grandchildren connect with their grandparents across time to learn from them about their language via traditional land use studies recordings, where Elders have done impromptu storytelling about places, or teaching about plants and medicines. Council meetings where traditional governance structures and procedures are revitalized, as well as critical documentation language projects are present on analog media and preserved through digitization. These recordings often come with traditional rules, called protocols, around who can access this knowledge, which adds a layer of intricacy to this work to those entrusted with their care.

The recordings were captured on historic, analog audio or video recording devices that are now difficult to procure, but are necessary components for the digitization process. Procuring equipment, deciphering complex manuals, and figuring out how to do collection care processes that accompany digitization can be overwhelming. Indigitization grew from a community request to help decipher complexities around equipment, best practices, processes and training. Additionally, via the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre's community endowment fund, Indigitization has provided $422,143 for 48 audio cassette digitization projects since 2013, helping digitize over 11,464 tapes.

Indigenous partners expressed a need to expand to other analog media, but the overwhelming demand for the audio cassette projects had limited the capacity of the Indigitization program to adequately respond. As part of its Indigenous Languages Technology Project, the NRC provided the necessary funding to overcome this capacity limitation: Indigitization has expanded their digitization technical manual toolkits, lendable equipment in multiple formats, and the scope of their training courses for Indigenous organizations.

Project team

  • Gerry Lawson, Technical Lead and Oral History Language Lab Coordinator, Museum of Anthropology, UBC
  • Sarah Dupont, Project Manager and Head Librarian, X̱wi7x̱wa Library, UBC
  • Lara Maestro, Indigitization Strategic Projects Manager, UBC
  • Jana Grazley, Instructional Guide External Specialist, UBC
  • Kristy Waller, Instructional Guide External Specialist, UBC

Contact us

Gerry Lawson, Technical Lead
Oral History Language Lab Coordinator
Museum of Anthropology, UBC

Roland Kuhn, Project Leader,
Indigenous Languages Technology Project, NRC

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