When it comes to promoting diversity and inclusivity, emojis have become a surprisingly powerful force.
Though small, these images — and the frequency with which we use them — speak volumes about what we value in modern communication and culture.
According to the 2015 Emoji Report conducted by Emogi Research Team, 92 percent of the online population uses emojis.
Because (almost) everyone uses emojis, everyone wants to see their wants, needs, and even themselves in the distinct cartoon form, too. Over the past year, the push for greater representation in emojis has created real change, from offering a variety of skin colors to proposing more expansive gender roles.
Now, Indigenous peoples are using the latest technology to promote — and possibly save from extinction — thousands of years of cultural heritage and language for the next generation.
That’s the driving force behind “Emotiki,” a keyboard of more than 150 characters representing the broad range of Māori culture.
Sponsored by the Te Puia Māori cultural center in Rotorua, New Zealand, the keyboard app intends to integrate ancient elements of this Indigenous culture into an easily accessible part of 21st century society.
"We see these as a lighthearted and inclusive way to share the meaning of Māori words and concepts with other cultures and with all New Zealanders," Te Puia General Manager, Sales and Marketing Kiri Atkinson-Crean said in a post on the Te Puia blog.
Other apps, such as FirstVoices Keyboards, have helped preserve more than 100 Indigenous languages, but Emotikis is the first to focus solely on the unique and increasingly ubiquitous place emojis hold in modern communication.
According to the post, the Emotikis represent a host of "emotions, sports, situations, foods and icons that are familiar to or have been made famous by Māori." From traditional Māori symbols such as waka ama (outrigger canoe) to kete (woven basket/bag) to whānau (family), the emojis allow Māori youth to connect with their heritage while connecting with each other.
"All they could use were expressions and symbols from other countries," Atkinson-Crean also stated. "We wanted to give them another form of this language with Māori culture Emotiki's for an opportunity to express themselves."
True to its name, the app also offers an indigenous equivalent to the yellow smiley face — the green tiki.
The blog post explains that the tiki, while "distinctly New Zealand," will express "as broad a range of emotions and expressions as the smiley face." Many of these expressions will cut across cultures, but some, such as pūkana only exist in Māori.
The set also features a "small selection" of animated Emotiki GIFs, including poi (swinging ball used in kapa haka performance), taiaha (a traditional weapon) movements, and even a winking tiki Emotiki.
The free Emotiki app will be available on iOS and Android in mid-July.