Carefully weaving culture and technology, 14-year-old Natasha Yibarbuk has created three interactive, bilingual apps teaching Nawarddeken culture.

Yibarbuk is a senior student at the Nawarddeken Academy, a unique bicultural school in the remote community of Kabulwarnamyo.

The community sits within the Warddeken Indigenous Protected Area in Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

“My community and my school are amazing. It’s a special place,” Yibarbuk said.

The young student’s apps are created with a software called Tendril. She was first introduced to the software through an Indigenous Language and Culture Tendril program which came to the Nawarddeken Academy, philanthropically funded by the Aesop Foundation.

“They [came] out from Inyerpocket [IYP Software] to the school and they taught us about this Tendril app and Natasha really just picked it up super quick. They were blown away!” said Natasha’s teacher, Amber Whittaker.

A Victorian based company, Inyerpocket Software has previously supported software builds for indigiTUBE and Alphakids Digital Library.

“The school received some philanthropic funding from [the] Aesop Foundation which we used to work with Inyerpocket to help support the intergenerational transfer of language and cultural knowledge through the use of technology,” said Warddeken Land Management CEO, Shaun Ansell.

“We are very grateful to the Aesop Foundation for supporting this important initiative as well as the Karrkad Kanjdji Trust who assisted in securing this funding.”

Yibarbuk has made three apps so far and is in the process of creating a fourth. The apps draw upon cultural knowledge and present it in both English and the local traditional language, Kunwinjku.

“I like using it because it gives me more knowledge, it gives me all kinds of knowledge. I learn more about English and my language,” she said.

“I’ve made one about Marlkno, a seasonal calendar, in that I have information on food, season and animals—like what we eat.

“One about Kangaroo, Kunj, and one about Kunwinjku animal names, and I’m making one now about kinship.”

Yibarbuk has used her apps to teach younger classmates about Kudjewk—the rainy season. She pulls the content for her apps from knowledge she’s learnt at school and from family and community.

Using a computer and iPad to record this content and create apps, Yibarbuk is a leader in her community—following in the footprints of her parents.

Her father, Dean Yibarbuk, is a passionate advocate for Indigenous land management programs in Arnhem Land and works within Warddeken Land Management as a local ranger.

“This is an Indigenous Protected Area and has a ranger program. It is a very small community … the population number varies, it is mainly ranger and family groups,” he said.

Both parents, Dean and Serina Yibarbuk, were instrumental in establishing the Nawarddeken Academy.

The school was established in 2015 as a result of community requests to provide education for students who remained on Country.

Being so remote, student numbers vary as people often travel to access services or for cultural reasons, however we started off as a two teacher school [one qualified teacher and a local assistant teacher] with eight students, and we now have two full time teachers and five casual local assistant teachers, and can cater for over 20 students. As well an early learning program that caters for zero to five-year-olds,” Ansell said.

Whittaker said for the Yibarbuks to see their daughter “become an innovative leader” is particularly special as they worked so hard to establish the Academy.

“Everyone is really excited about what she has made and what she has been able to do, along with her enthusiasm. She’s put so much work in at school and then plenty of hours of her own time,” Whittaker said.

“We are so very proud of her. And seeing that [this type of] education … can be provided out in the bush, getting those two ways of education, it is a more sustainable way of learning,” added Mr Yibarbuk.

“For the kids to see their parents working as rangers, and as role models, they see it’s important to step into these leadership roles.

“The kids are so amazing, they enjoy going out on bush trips, collecting bushfood and learning about history and culture. It’s so important for families to see their children engage in their cultural explorations of this land.

“English is our second language, Kunwinjku is our traditional language that most of us speak. But our children need to learn the two ways, traditional education and the western education system.”

By Rachael Knowles