IsumaTV: Indigenous community media and online activism

Regions: Global, Canada

Issues: Corporations and human rights, Discrimination, Education, Environment, Food & health & development, Freedom of opinion & expression, Indigenous peoples, Internally displaced persons, Minorities, Sustainable development, Transitional justice

Tags: community media, indigenous media, inuit, social media

*This is the second post of our weekly series on Indigenous media.


Since I first heard of what folks were calling a 'YouTube for indigenous media' in early 2008, the word about IsumaTV has been spreading: in its first nine months the site registered almost 4 million hits. Since its birth, the internet portal for global Indigenous media has been reaching out and making a significant contribution to the online Indigenous media landscape. Though IsumaTV emerged out of a very interesting and prolific history of Inuit filmmaking practice, in this post I will be discussing the platform's increasingly global and political focus, made possible by a growing user base, new networking capabilities, and issue-based curation. The post is quite long, so if you are short on time, read up to the fold and bookmark IsumaTV to check out later. If you're really interested, keep scrolling!


As a self-proclaimed "action-oriented" online platform that enables users to join and "participate interactively in a collaborative process for change," IsumaTV is the type of platform that is familiar to us at the Hub. It has become an active space of participation, collaboration and activism for Inuit and Indigenous communities, organisations and causes both locally and internationally. It seeks to use "the power and immediacy of the Web" to improve communication and exchange within and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples by encouraging the creation of content that features native voices. It creates opportunities not only to record, store and present content, but to share and create an active community around Indigenous knowledge, languages, experiences, opinions, and ways of life. Not only is a site devoted to Indigenous media with sharing capabilitiesm, but increasingly they are becoming actively involved in campaigns, projects and initiatives to open peoples' eyes to Indigenous realities.


One of their current projects - Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Change: Countdown to Copenhagen - is a six-month internet campaign to promote the importance of Inuit knowledge and human rights in the global discussion of climate change. Using a collaborative approach to video creation, Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk and his team from Igloolik Isuma Productions (the media production company that started IsumaTV) have teamed up with researcher Ian Mauro, as well as a community advisory board, to document Inuit knowledge in several communities in Nunavut. Filming elders and other locals in their native language of Inuktitut speaking about impacts and associated adaptation strategies, this project makes an important contribution to the knowledge pool on climate change. The video below is a trailer to introduce the project:



Besides using the content produced in a feature film, Isuma is using online technologies to distribute the content in order to reach the widest audience, starting with monthly webcasts which began in May. Additionally, from December 7-17 - during the UN Climate Change Conference Copenhagen - they will be streaming daily content via satellite hosted by Zacharias Kunuk live from his arctic wilderness hunting camp. Stay tuned to the 'Live from the Floe Edge' channel for updated footage. Researcher Ian Mauro describes the importance of the project:

"[O]ur team will be traveling throughout Nunavut documenting Inuit perspectives on climate change, and we will be posting video content here on this website. We will be blogging about our experience as we go. Using satellite technology, we will be transmitting live video from the tundra, the floe edge and where ever we find ourselves, connecting the world in ways never thought possible. Consider for a moment that many of the elders we will speak with will have been born in an igloo or sod house and, now, we have the capacity to transmit their message to a global audience over the internet using digital technology [...] Importantly, with IsumaTV's interactive website, we encourage you to follow us along and provide comments about what you're seeing. We want your input, tell us what you think, and tell us what you want to see. Become part of a conversation and movement that includes marginalized yet important voices in the global debate regarding climate change, the paramount issue of our time."



To spread the word more effectively, IsumaTV 2.0 - the newest version - has increased interaction and networking. This new beta version, now enables users to join and upload a variety of multimedia content - not only video, but audio, radio, documents, photos and text. By offering live webcasting, an option of high or low-bandwidth, VOD, customized channels, etc. it is increasing its potential to reach people, to encourage storytelling, and to support change.


An increasing number of Indigenous groups internationally now have their own media channels hosted by the site. Not only does the channel structure encourage community cohesion, but curators have created dedicated channels to what they consider to be five of the most pressing issues that face Indigenous communities worldwide, effectively encouraging connections between different Indigenous groups internationally who are facing the same challenges. These issue-topics - climate change, mining, cultural and language preservation, and reconciliation - highlighted on the main page, represent the intersection of Indigenous media with human rights more generally. The most recent channel - Inuit Knowledge & Climate Change - is managed by Ian Mauro and contains all of the Countdown to Climate Change content.


Another section - Speaking Our Languages - houses videos in and resources about the more than 28 native languages across Canada. This channel is able to act as a conduit between local and global languages, incorporating Native languages to the global public sphere online. One of the more locally important projects housed on the page is the Inuit Language and Culture Institute project, which uses new media technology to "preserve, promote and revitalize Inuktitut language and culture in the face of 21st century challenges of climate change, globalization and mining and resource development." It is part of Isuma's commitment to advancing communities’ technological capabilities - which is, according to them, paramount to achieving human rights for Indigenous people. Speaking in Inuktitut, Zacharias Kunuk said, "Inuit communities must connect at the same speed as their governments and mining companies."


Truth & Reconciliation is a section that collects media that documents the current scope of reactions on the reconciliation process for Canada's Aboriginal people. It contains video documentation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's recent apology for the treatment of Aboriginal children at residential schools, as well as testimonies of those who attended the schools, interviews with those involved in the schools, and links to resources and information on Transitional Justice. As content is added, this channel could become an important resource in furthering truth and reconciliation in Canada, and potentially act as a model for other nations involved in the reconciliation process.


The DIAMA channel provides all the content from Isuma's new Digitizing the Inuit and Aboriginal Media Archive project, an initiative that preserves Indigenous material from audio and video archives recorded over the past 40 years in danger of being lost due to inadequate storage on deteriorating or obsolete magnetic tape formats. If you have a collection that is in need of preservation, please contact info [at] isuma [dot] tv. For more information on this, please stay tuned for a post on the WITNESS Media Archive blog.


Climate Change & Mining pulls together curated and user content about how climate change and the subsequent growing need for resources intersects with mining interests. This page is especially important since development projects routinely affect land-based peoples ways of life and since Indigenous peoples have been marganlised from development processes, and are not being consulted by governments and mining companies. However, recently, staff member Gabriela Gamez (Project Manager of DIAMA) has been posting videos that support Indigenous perspectives on climate change.


IsumaTV's curatorial strategy shows that not only Indigenous productions and user-generated content are important to Indigenous rights, but also videos coming from the broader international community. The UN's Our World 2.0 project is one of a growing number of projects - including Isuma's Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change - that use video combined with online presentation to demonstrate the importance of Indigenous perspectives in the global debate. This particular Our World 2.0 video - called Forbidden Forest of the Dayak People - is about how people of the Setulang community in Borneo are using a sustainable initiative to protect their lands from outside deforestation interests:



And finally, Isuma is not only helping those who are already connected to the internet achieve better access to media, but is working to improve unequal access to resources and infrastructure for remote areas, such high speed internet. In an effort to try and place these resources in the hands of users that haven’t traditionally had access to them, in May they launched NITV - a project that uses local cable or low-power channels and downloads to digital projectors to give access to a hi-speed version of IsumaTV into remote Nunavut communities.


All in all, IsumaTV seems to be thriving. Members and channels are increasing, and tools are becoming more advanced and accessible. They have made an institutional effort to further the reach of Indigenous media into remote communities as well as in the global landscape. IsumaTV is a fantastic example of how a website can begin to drive off-line change - pushing community media and online activism into new territory.


Get involved in the Indigenous media-sharing community and sign-up to IsumaTV, and follow their new Twitter feed. I also recommend keeping up with the work of Sheila (Siila) Watt-Cloutier, an Inuit activist who launched the world's first International Legal Action on Climate Change. Check out her Keynote Presentation from this April's Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change Plenary Session Anchorage, Alaska.



Launched in January 2008 by Igloolik Isuma Productions, independent producers of The Fast Runner Trilogy of the award-winning Inuit-language films: Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, and the forthcoming Before Tomorrow - and in association with Nunavut Independent TV Network (NITV), imagineNATIVE Film+Media Arts Festival, Vtape, Native Communications Society of the NWT and other non-profit organisations - IsumaTV began collaboratively as an alternative to Inuit television for the presentation of Indigenous and Inuit media.


Live weekly webcasts for "Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change"

Hi all,

Thanks for your readership and just wanted to point out IsumaTV's new cross-platform multi-media documentary by Zacharias Kunuk O.C. and Dr. Ian J. Mauro, presenting Inuit knowledge collected over centuries regarding land, weather, animals and the impacts of climate change on survival and adaptation.


Interact with filmmakers, through Skype, during live weekly webcasts from Igloolik every Thursday from 8-10 pm starting November 19.

Skype ID: InuitKnowledgeAndClimateChange


Teague Schneiter


Outcomes IsumaTV is working on now, according to Gabriela Gamez:

Thanks for your readership, all. I had a follow-up email conversation with Gabriela Gamez - head of IsumaTV's DIAMA project - and she wanted to point out some Important outcomes IsumaTV is working on right now:

• Navigation improvement: make it more simple and better instructions to create a channel and for uploading area

• Design improvement: make it more simple and highlight the important tools as create a channel, for free and what you can do on your channel.

• Manuals development: to explain step by step how to create channels and all options available once you have your own channel (that basically is like your own mini-website on IsumaTV).

• Finish Inuktitut translation and make it visible to all other indigenous communities that (if they provide the translation) we can implement the website platform in as many languages as the people ask (we have a list of words of all platform that we give to the people to translate and then we implement it)

• Improve Spanish translation and make the 'Spanish-speaking' launch.

• Contextualize some areas of the website with some briefs. And explain better who is this for, what is it for, why, etc...

• Expand and customize the education area where we are planning to have 2 indigenous educational sets soon: Inuit and another indigenous community from Canada.

• Improve DIAMA's area design

Thank you for your input, Gabriela!
Teague Schneiter

Wonderful information here

Wonderful information here so I can follow the spread.