Interview with Jon Corbett

Jon Corbett's languages Cree# and Ancestral Code allow programming in Cree keywords using Cree concepts and metaphors. In addition to this language, Corbett's PhD research has led to his Indigenous Coding Framework, a work-in-progress that will help other Indigenous communities bring to computation not only their languages but their cultural logic and values as well. Corbett describes the challenges of this work, from the danger of accidentally including colonial understandings in such a system, to working with technologies that assume programming languages have Roman-character keywords.

» First, for people who are not yet familiar with Cree#, can you describe the how you expect it to be used?

My desired output for this language is graphical based. I originally envisioned it as a kind of “Processing for Indigenous Languages”. Where the output is generative and graphic. The generative aspect is crucial in the representation of the Indigenous worldview, because when the program ends whatever display was generated is destroyed (comes to end of life). And subsequent running of the program – though they may produce similar results will never be graphically identical to any previous execution. This mimics the “real” world equivalent of listening to a story from a storyteller – who might change it slightly each time, so the same story is never the same twice.

Additionally, many Indigenous peoples use their arts and crafts as knowledge and story histories. So being able to create a graphic from story ties the language to a visual archive, and moves the creative process into a digital practice that has the same result.

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