Common ‘Wikialities’ are part of the settler colonial present: Magnus Pharao Hansen, ‘Writing Irataba: On Representing Native Americans on Wikipedia’, American Anthropologist, 2016
Abstract: Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, is simultaneously an experiment in anarchic knowledge production and a realization of the long dream of modernity: storing all human knowledge. It is also a battleground for the politics of representation and for creating and circulating realities and “Wikialities.” I ethnographically describe how Wikipedians, most of whom are white Anglo-Americans, negotiate the representation of Native Americans as objects of encyclopedic knowledge and how the sins of our anthropological forebears come back to haunt us in this process. In 2015, I participated in the collaborative writing of the article on Irataba or Yara tav, who was an important leader of the Mohave people of California and Arizona in the late 19th century. This process brought representational dilemmas to the fore in the negotiation between the inadequacies of historical and anthropological knowledge and Wikipedia’s policies establishing how to authorize and re-represent narratives. These dilemmas point out to us, as 21st-century anthropologists, that we have a responsibility for being the stewards of the knowledge created by anthropologists past as well as for correcting their mistakes and guiding the global public of readers and writers when they make forays into our traditional territories.
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