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July 10, 2019

Getting Started with Mukurtu CMS

Kanopi Studios is honored to have contributed to Mukurtu, a project that offers a powerful example of the importance of putting inclusivity, cultural sensitivity, and user needs at the center of design and development so that technology can be used as a force for good. If you’re interested in getting started with Mukurtu, here’s an overview of how it works:

Mukurtu CMS Screenshot

What is Mukurtu?

Mukurtu  (MOOK-oo-too) is a free content management system built with Drupal that helps indigenous communities manage, share, and exchange their heritage in culturally relevant and ethically-minded ways.

“Mukurtu” is a Warumungu word for safe keeping place, a name chosen in 2007 when Warumungu community members collaborated with developers and scholars on the first iteration of the platform to produce the Mukurtu Wumpurrarni-kari Archive.

Surviving cultures risk being drowned out or forgotten by modern society due to dwindling numbers, resources, and legal claim to land and heritage. By sharing their voices, indigenous cultures can preserve their history and way of life, educate others, and seek much-needed support. But by doing so, they run the risk of losing control and ownership of the narrative. The Mukurtu project helps to solve that problem. Mukurtu was created to allow indigenous cultures to share their heritage on their own terms, eliminating the potential for exploitation or misrepresentation. 

The power of Mukurtu comes from its complex and layered permission system that goes far beyond the capabilities of traditional content management systems. The system is purpose-built to allow indigenous people to maintain control over how information is shared, who they share it with, and how it can be used.

Mukurtu and Kanopi Studios

As the program expanded, Kanopi Studios joined the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation at Washington State University and CoDA as a development partner. Kanopi led a research-guided approach that included focus groups and surveys with users to inform the project’s technical strategy and development.

Since Mukurtu’s original release, Kanopi has played a lead role in development, adding features based on user requests and ensuring that the system remains easy to use, secure, and scalable. New features include an improved  mobile experience and robust collaboration capabilities with a mobile app coming soon that will allow users to browse and add content from the field, even while offline. 

Kanopi Studios also works directly with clients who want to use Mukurtu, but need to enhance the system to meet unique needs. Custom development examples include a site to help relocate indigenous people in Kivalina, Alaska, another to share the voices of Amiskwaciy people in Edmonton, Canada, and one of our earliest projects with Washington State University.

How Mukurtu can support indigenous communities 

Mukurtu was built to be flexible enough to support diverse communities while remaining easy enough that non-technical users can add and update content and permissions.
Core features include:

  • Traditional knowledge labels allow communities to add labels to content that describe how that content can be accessed, used and circulated, and to whom it needs to be attributed.
  • Cultural protocols allow for finely-grained content access settings that can be customized on an ongoing basis to meet the needs and values of each community, from wide open, to restricted at the individual level. 
  • Community records allow multiple ways to store information about cultural heritage so critical details and diverse perspectives can be maintained. 
  • Data integrity uses file hashes to ensure that files are not tampered with, ensuring that content remains intact over time.
  • Dictionary helps indigenous communities preserve their language, complete with translations, definitions, pronunciations, audio recordings, and other media
  • Collaboration tools allow site members to share events on group calendars and engage in threaded discussions.
  • Unit plans and lessons give educators and students a platform to engage in online and field learning through a Mukurtu site.

Indigenous communities across the globe use Mukurtu to record, preserve, and share their heritage, including the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, Passamaquoddy PeopleCatawba Indian Nation Archives, and many more. 

Impacting our future

While indigenous people benefit from sharing their stories, modern society has much to learn from their cultures as well, from our relationship to the land in a time when climate change threatens us all, to staying connected during this time of individualism and political divide. We’re proud to continue expanding Mukurtu as a platform for telling these important stories and hope they will help us build a stronger future for everyone.

Getting started with Mukurtu

If you have technical support and hosting available, you can download Mukurtu on Github and begin using it for free. For clients who need technical support additional customization of Mukurtu, contact us. We’d love to help.