Graham Wilfred Jnr, one of the graphic designers for the Indigemoji app. Courtesy of Indigemoji, 2022.
Introducing, “Australia’s first set of Indigenous emojis made on Arrernte Country in Mparntwe/Alice Springs.” The Indigemoji app features Arrernte cultural symbols and language, such as a kangaroo tail, a bilby and boomerang, in the form of emojis for Australians to access via their Android or iOS smartphones (Indigemoji, 2022).
The aim of the app is to promote the use and learning of the Arrernte language, which is one of the many Aboriginal languages still spoken in the Northern Territory. Indigemoji contains 90 emojis, each accompanied by its Arrernte name, and an English translation in written and audio form. Some of these emojis depict traditional hand signs, facial expressions, as well as specific totemic animals and bushtucker. All of these features provide Aboriginal users with the opportunity to engage in conversations using emojis that look like them (Indigemoji, 2022).
“We wanted a good mix of some fun items and things that would make people laugh a bit and really identify with Arrernte people and this part of Australia,'' said Joel Liddle Perrula (2019), the lead language and cultural consultant on the project, to the ABC News.
Throughout the project, Liddle - proud Arrernte man, PhD student and Arrernte ethnographic researcher - consulted with senior Arrente elders, cultural advisers and artists to ensure that they were able to “put in the ideas that they wanted for this landscape.” In doing so, the new sticker set of emojis became an accurate representation of their culture and lives (ABC News, 2019).
Liddle (2019) told the ABC News that he hopes the project will spark some interest in people who grew up as English speakers to get involved in learning the language:
"We should be writing text messages and writing essays for school in Arrernte and we should be utilising Arrernte emojis, because if we utilise them in the digital realm then it means that they're used daily still.”
Language and cultural consultant Joel Liddle with the developed emojis. Courtesy of ABC News (Samantha Jonscher), 2019.
The Indigemoji Project
The Indigemoji project began in 2019 with Liddle tweeting a list of standard emojis with Arrernte words next to them. After receiving positive feedback from the community, Liddle realised there was real potential here to provide representation and diversity of First Nations peoples within digital media (Indigemoji, 2022).
Over the 2018-19 summer school holidays, 960 young people participated in seven weeks of emoji workshops at the Alice Springs Public Library. A group of talented local First Nations artists Graham Wilfred Jnr, Phillip McCormack, Emma Stubbs and Colleen Powell mentored the children as many of them had never used an iPad before (Indigemoji, 2022).
Arnhem Land-based graphic artist Graham Wilfred Jnr (2019) said the children played a “huge” role in the design of the 90 emojis.
Kids creating the emoji concepts on iPads. Courtesy of Indigemoji, 2019.
Wilfred Jnr (2019) continued, saying he hoped the emojis would have a lasting impact:
“I hope it goes a long way and there are more projects… inspiring other kids out there wanting to get into graphic design, and maybe want to get a job with their art.
I hope it would give a sense of identity and of where they come from, what they stand for, get them learning about laws and culture and keeping it strong.”
This summer program was supported by inDigiMOB - a digital inclusion partnership between First Nations Media Australia and Telstra - and a Northern Territory Government Youth Activities Grant (Indigemoji, 2022).The Indigemoji stickers are free to use and share through the app, available via the App Store and Google Play.