Importing Indigenous Names

I recently noticed that the Northern Saw-whet Owl (brooksi) didn’t have the Haida name (K’agwáay) attached and manually added it using the “Add Name” function. This is something I’d like to remedy, as including Indigenous names for species is something important to me.

Can anyone make recommendations on how best to do this?


Do you have a source for the names? We at iNat can batch import CSVs of common names but would like to have a source to point to when doing that.


I very much support this idea.

Could this be attempted on a source-by-source basis, if iNaturalist users individually compiled names from published Indigenous-vetted sources, such as community language resources?

Perhaps in future there could be a spatial component so that Indigenous language options could be overlaid with traditional territories.

It’s interesting. I picked up a copy of “Guia rapido de las aves comunes de la Ciudad de Mexico” by "Gerardo del Olmo L., Director de arte e investigación del “Proyecto de Divulgación de la Aves Mexicanas Bruja de monte”. In the guide, all hummingbird species in that area are called “huitzin” in Nahuatl. Initially I thought that it was odd that these birds were all named the same thing, but later realised that a hummingbird would have less importance than, say, a Mexican Duck (xomotl). Some indigenous names may not be precise.
I could probably find the names that Indigenous Canadians use for some species, keeping in mind that most nations had an oral history and may have dismissed some groups as unimportant.

Isn’t that true of every language? There’s lots of species that don’t have common names or that have common names which are just awkward translations of the Latin. I think in this case, “huitzin” would be just be another name for “hummingbirds” in general, not each species of hummingbird in that region.


With regards to a CSV file yes, though it would of course be Nation by Nation. I work as a First Nations consultant in British Columbia where linguistic diversity is absolutely overwhelming at times but many nations have published dictionaries for their languages. What I’ve done in the past is just pull out the relevant words I need and copy them into an Excel or Google Sheet. Would that suffice?

For the Northern Saw-whet Owl I was using the Dictionary of Alaskan Haida, seen here, but to pull together a CSV I would first want to phone Band Offices to find their preferred dictionary.


@mamestraconfigurata It’s a two way road. When I worked in Ol’Kiramatian for a Maasai community conservancy a few years back there was a project where botanists from the University of Nairobi came and met up with Maasai elders to go on collecting walks to name every species of grass in the area. What resulted was a fascinating discussion wherein the botanists named species the Maasai had no distinction for because it served no pastoral of cultural function, and the distinctive feature was often pedantic, while the Maasai elders named grasses the botanists had no names for. When I last checked many of the ladder were in the process of being described as new species.


Will have to be careful that the sources’ nuances are not lost on a non-speaker uploading many names without personal knowledge of the context, so should really be verified by a speaker, as with any languages. I would be concerned that it would easily be misused for non-speakers to upload names they have no understanding of.

Many names in te reo Mа̄ori for guidebooks, journal articles, etc. have lost the context by just being copied in by non-speaking pа̄kehа̄, like tītī being for some iwi simply a word for any muttonbird (fatty seabird chick) and for others specifically each for their local muttonbird like Pterodroma gouldi, P. cookii, or Ardenna grisea, there simply not being names that directly correspond to single species like for toroa, or the name for the general group being applied to individual species that have their own independent names, like for pāpahu (dolphin) or ahoaho (Hector’s dolphin) being used to say Cephalorhynchus hectori ssp. maui when their specific name to the subspecies is popoto. And this just my minimal knowledge as a minimally-speaking pа̄kehа̄ that has surely lost context even in these examples


This topic includes elements that were discussed here:Displaying indigenous lands and land history on iNat which is a topic of direct relevance.

and here: Common Name Being Deleted - Mardi Gras Sharpshooter which is not a directly relevant thread but contains discussion, some technical, that is relevant.

This point:

is a bit broader than adding stuff to the Indigenous name slot and I hope folks see it as having merit. It probably wouldn’t apply in a lot of cases but it would serve as a useful foundation for moving forward.

I do have a concern that partly reflects the point made by @intyrely_eco

The people best positioned to provide indigenous names are indigenous people and the best way to engage their knowledge would be to involve them in iNature directly. It’s not as if this sort of tech is alien to indigenous communities: the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board uses a platform produced by a company called Trailmark . If iNature wants their help, there would might be a cost; folks are tired of people taking their knowledge without compensation.


This is a welcome discussion - thanks, everyone.

As others have pointed out, names can be misunderstood and misrepresented in published literature and these inaccuracies perpetuated over time in print. For this reason (among others), many communities have worked to develop and publish their own language learning resources. And as others have mentioned (comments are appearing as I type), communities will be the authorities on their own terminology, and their own taxonomies.

For iNaturalist users who have existing relationships with Indigenous partners and who are interested in supporting Indigenous languages through this platform, the first step would be to have a conversation with the appropriate Indigenous governing authority about iNaturalist, and go from there.


I know that iNaturalist is a known quantity in some Indigenous communities where the organization I work for is involved. Among many/most of the elders and knowledge holders there is little interest in sharing on any but the most casual basis on a public platform in which their knowledge would be publicly available. Part of this is suspicions, rooted in history both old and recent, concerning how the information will be used. In Canada, at least, there is a very clear preference that information sharing happen through formal agreements that clarify who owns the knowledge and what ends it will used to further. As I noted, some communities have their own isolutions that include some of iNaturalist’s functionalty but keep their information confidential, to be shared only as the community chooses.

There is also a strong acceptance of oral traditions in some communities where some elders refuse to write things down, never mind enter them on a screen. This isn’t universal but it is a fact of life.

The language piece is a bit different than the entry of data and is probably more readily navigable but I still think it would be wise to get some sort of initiative formalized by iNaturalist before users start representing the tech to indigenous communities.


That’s essentially the point I was trying to make. That is really the only example I know, but I would suspect many Indigenous languages would focus on the most important species to them historically. This is neither good nor bad, but it may pose a problem for a platform like iNat where Linnean taxonomy predominates. Personally, I think Indigenous names should be available - I was certainly pleased to Nahuatl in the little guide I have. BTW, no offense intended.

Reminds me of a story I heard once about turbulence in liquids. The theorists were describing things not seen in real life, and the observationalists were seeing things that could not be nathematically described!


How would one go about starting a formal iNaturalist initiative? I would be greatly interested in participating in something like that.

I’m in total agreeance that this is a topic which should be handled with great care so as not to misrepresent or misinput Indigenous names. That being said, as it currently stands Indigenous species names are highly unrepresented, both in iNaturalist and the scientific community more broadly, and I think that in and of itself is a greater evil than the possibility of applying a genus level equivalent Indigenous name to a species, which could be fixed at a future date if discovered.


Did you send the list(s) of names to Tony (iNat staff) who commented above?


@bouteloua No I didn’t because I don’t actually have a prepared CSV on hand, I just had a number of dictionaries from which I could pull together one depending on the answer. I can start to do that now if there’s agreeance on that as a path forward (first I’ll check to make sure any dictionary is sanctioned/approved by the First Nation)


@bouteloua @tiwane Is there a way to make enquiries to First Nations and other Indigenous groups regarding names an actual iNaturalist initiative or iNat endorsed initiative? If there is a desire to do this, it will get a better response if it’s coming from iNat, even if only in name. Is there a way to establish a working group on something like this?


I work as a First Nations consultant for NGOs and not for profits and typically outreach to First Nations is a lengthy and time-consuming process involving making a list of desired First Nations whom you wish to contact, acquiring contact for their band offices, then reaching out by phone and email over the course of months to try and get ahold of them. In the Pacific Northwest were you have an absolutely insane diversity of First Nations, many of which have 100 members or less and all of which are responsible for fielding numerous referrals, contact can be difficult.

In the case of iNaturalist, since all that’s required is confirmation of a translation dictionary to use, I imagine it would be as tedious a process. I have a personal database of Band Offices and contacts in B.C. I’d be happy to lend to the cause, as well as contacts throughout Canada and some of the northern States.

Not sure how to start a working group via iNaturalist, but would love to participate/coordinate.


Linnaeus nor first world countries have the market on scientific names. Linnaeus attempted to create a Universally understood naming/identifying system. It works well, and even includes indigenous names at times. If we are to honor indigenous cultures and respect that some (not all) have a greater understanding of their biological habitats, could we not honor that in some way? Already many common names (NZ, Madagascar, and on & on) are in use.

I’m not sure I follow; are you suggesting we go beyond adding the Indigenous names alongside the scientific ones on iNaturalist somehow? That seems beyond the scope of the platform to me, but a great idea nonetheless (e.g., I’m a big fan of how many Hawaiian birds have Hawaiian names)

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