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Indians in Cyberspace
by Mike MacDonald

Who is
by Cheryl L'Hirondelle

First Nations in Cyberspace
by Mike Patterson

Image Credit: NASA JPL-Caltech E. Churchwell University of Wisconsin


First Nations in Cyberspace: Two Worlds and Tricksters - Where the Forest meets the Highway

by Mike Patterson

Table of Contents

We are pleased to present three chapters from Mike Patterson's Ph.D. Dissertation for the Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Carleton University, Winter 2003. This page provides the abstract to the full paper, his introduction to the three chapters, the table of contents for each section, a printable PDF (572 kb) of these excerpts, and a link to the full paper.


This dissertation examines both the literature and my personal experiences regarding the implications of cyberspace, with a view to contemporary Native and First Nations peoples in Canada, particularly in light of the Seventh Fire Prophecy of coexistence and cooperation (Patterson 1995).

I examine the role of Information Technology (IT) in the emerging First Nations cybercommunities in Canada, also the ways in which IT impacts on people's lives. This dissertation seeks to determine what is being gained and lost in exchanges between people and computers, people communicating in new ways via IT, and in new global dialogues.

I then describe some visions for the future use of cyberspace, with a caution to be aware of its contradictory possibilities, concluding that First Nations in Canada should take a proactive approach to this new territory still in the process of creation, to refine and redefine Native and non-Native priorities with regards to cultural survival, self-determination, and mutual recognition.


These excerpts are from my Ph.D. dissertation, which examines the implications of cyberspace, with a view to contemporary Aboriginal peoples in Canada, particularly in light of the Seventh Fire Prophecy of coexistence and cooperation. Chapter 3 looks at colonization and its effects on Aboriginal societies; chapter 4 shows how we have always used communications to counter these forces, and to navigate two worlds; and chapter 7 looks to the future of First Nations in the new territory, cyberspace, and its possible role in decolonization. The dissertation seeks to determine what is being gained and lost in exchanges between people and computers, people communicating in new ways via IT, and in new global dialogues. We should be aware of the contradictory (Two Worlds, Tricksters) possibilities of cyberspace. First Nations in Canada should take a proactive approach to this new territory still in the process of creation, to redefine Native and non-Native priorities with regards to cultural survival, mutual recognition and self-determination.

Chapter Three: Pre-Cyberspace Prophecies Now in Place: Light It Or Lose It. (7TH Fire)

Part of the Native movement to self-determination today is contained in prophecies that call for a re-reckoning of the role of Natives in larger society. These prophecies can be seen as the philosophy or spiritual teaching behind Native self-determination. They are ancient and hard to date, but they arose with great strength in the early to mid-90s, as events such as Kahnesetake (Oka) in 1990 foreshadowed a resurgence of Native activism, and the arrival of a new generation to lead to the future, and into cyberspace.

3.1 The Seventh Fire Prophecy

In the Seventh Fire prophecy of the Anishnabek, each of the seven fires represent an era in human history. We are now in the time of the Seventh Fire. The task of the people of this age, including the Anishnabek and other red people, the yellow people, the black and the white, is to come together through choosing the road of cooperation. Without this, there will be no Eighth Fire, or future for Natives and others.

3.2 The Seven Generations Prophecy

Mohawk chief Oren Lyons speaks of how we must look seven generations hence in all our actions as "when we walk upon Mother Earth we plant our feet carefully because we know the faces of our future generations are looking up at us from beneath the ground" (in Wall and Arden 1990: 68). This prophecy says that "the world will eventually come to Indigenous Peoples to learn or relearn how to live in harmony with the Earth. Today, we call this sustainable development" (Brascoupé 1993: 3).

3.3 Missing the Mainstream and 3.4 Conclusions

These teachings and sentiments were heard far and wide in the early to mid-90s, and are still fundamental to Native views. But we are almost finished with the UN's International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, and these messages are no more mainstream than they were in 1994, at the beginning of the UN's Decade of the World's Indigenous People.

There is a pan-Indian call for a return to traditional values and teachings, and the Seventh Fire prophecy is now known across Canada. It is part of the movement toward self-determination, and part of the philosophical underpinning of young Native sentiment today. It forms a basis for Native action, on the ground and in cyberspace. As further sections will show, these traditional Native teachings are very much alive in cyberspace today.

Chapter Four: Moccasin Telegraph Telecom

The moccasin telegraph is the way that things travel, by word of mouth in Native country - the Native way is to visit, and exchange gifts, stories and information. This slow but sure network is augmented by radio, television, print and now cyberspace. This section examines some things that are being gained and lost in historic and modern cultural exchanges through technology among Natives and others in Canada.

4.1 The Fiddle and the Drum

Among the Iroquois in the 1600s, the Jesuits had trouble trying to enforce a wholesale acceptance of their religion and music, because the Iroquois wanted to use the white religion on their own terms. "In the same way that the Jesuits initially responded to Huron customs from their own European cultural perspective, the Huron seem to have interpreted European (French) beliefs and practices according to their own concepts and signifying systems" (Grabell 1990: 96). So while the Jesuits viewed Native healing songs as satanic howling, the Wendat (and Iroquois) viewed Jesuit singing as a powerful intonation of a new type of spirit society. The Jesuits were often asked to pray at Native healing ceremonies, and Natives would use traditional invocations during Christian services (1990: 96-97).

4.2 Menace and Promise in the Media

Television (which Jerry Mander calls "freedom of speech for the wealthy" (1991:78)) has had a bad effect on family relations, language and social structure in remote communities. Cindy Gilday points out that the effect of TV of the Dene has been "to glamorize behaviours and values that are poisonous to life up here... People are sitting in their log houses, alongside frozen lakes with dog teams tied up outside, watching a bunch of white people in Dallas standing around their swimming pools, drinking martinis and plotting to destroy each other or steal from each other, or to get their friends' wives into bed... I heard of one old woman who prays every night for the people in the soap operas. She thinks they're real" (in Mander 1991: 104-105).

4.3 Questions - Adoptions, Survivals

The question remains as to what the effects of the adoption of the new technology, the new arena of cyberspace, will be. Adoption of the fiddle showed cultural losses, and survivals at the same time. As the following section explores, the current opportunity for cultural exchange in cyberspace can be seen by as perhaps a last chance for exchange of perspectives, or a knell for assimilation - in light of the Seventh Fire Prophecy.

Chapter Seven

Today in Canada an era of limited political autonomy has occurred and there is strong movement toward self-determination, healing, and expression of Native perspectives. The colonial policies carried out against Natives of North America for the last 500 years have not worked. In particular, Natives in Canada and elsewhere are surviving and thriving, and a strong movement toward self-determination is in process (Frideres 2001, RCAP 1995, Mercredi 1993, Fleras and Elliott 1992).

7.1 Two Worlds and Tricksters

Within cyberspace, not only are the spatial and temporal barriers collapsing, so too are the inter-personal ones. Meanwhile, however, new social barriers emerge with unique issues relating to access, understanding, and meaning (Miah 2000: 223).

7.2 The New Communities

I believe there is a general issue here with worldwide loss of unequivocal clan/tribal affiliations. That which replaces it asserts individualism to the exclusion of other values, and pushes for the widest denominator (English on the Web; US$ in the pocket, massive retaliation as an international norm of state behaviour). Has not the nation state, hand in hand with industrial capitalism, destroyed tribe and the web of family obligation and duties? Only the wealthiest make clan compatible with modern life, for instance the ruling Saudi circles, the English elite... (the state is) offering organized religion as a substitute reintegration factor... the content of which they can control (C. McKie personal correspondence, summer 2002).

7.3 Native N-Geners

Native youth could be following examples set by mainstream kids today: They resisted control of the Net with shared music distributions systems (MP3s and Kazaa, a new peer-to-peer music application which has replaced Napster and Gnutella), and will work to keep cyberspace free in the future. Donald Tapscott says that "for the first time in history, children are more comfortable, knowledgeable, and literate than their parents about an innovation central to society" (1998: 1).

7.4 Freedom for the People?

What about the claim for individual freedom in cyberspace? "Of all the computer enthusiasts' political ideas, there is none more poignant than the faith that the computer is destined to become a potent equalizer in modern society... Presumably, ordinary citizens equipped with microcomputers will be able to counter the influence of large, computer-based organizations... (but) using a personal computer makes one no more powerful vis-à-vis, say, the National Security Agency than flying a hang glider establishes a person as a match for the U.S. Air Force" (Winner 1998: 236-37). But many computers, working together? That is the distributive nature of cyberspace as it expands.

7.5 First Nations in Cyberspace

Demographic pressures underscore the need of Aboriginal communities to develop skilled workers in order to meet Canada's labour market needs and to improve their employment prospects. The emergence of an economy that values technological skills and competencies has significant positive and negative implications for Aboriginal peoples. Technologically skilled Aboriginal workers will be required to meet the needs of land claim settlements and self-government arrangements. Technology provides Aboriginal teachers and students with a tool to broaden their learning experience. (Greenall 2002: 9)



Dr. Patterson (Metis - Irish/French/Mohawk) completed his studies in Sociology at Carleton University in 2003. His thesis focuses on the meeting of two worlds: First Nations in Cyberspace. Mike has worked with many First Nations communities and NGOs and has worked in fields as diverse as Native music, prophecies (Seventh Fire), HIV/AIDS prevention, falls prevention, and the syncretic weaving of Western and Aboriginal worldviews (Where the Forest Meets the Highway; Kahswenhtha). He has been a host of Spirit Voice Native radio, and was music editor for Aboriginal VOICES magazine. Mike is currently a CHSRF/CIHR Postdoctoral Fellow working in Aboriginal health at the Community Health Research Unit (CHRU), University of Ottawa. He developed the first graduate seminar in Aboriginal health at the School of Nursing there. He is involved in a number of research projects involving Aboriginal communities and CHRU, including the development of Western/Indigenous wellness models; examination of the implications of telehealth for First Nations; and multiple interventions toward falls prevention at Akwesasne. Mike works primarily with qualitative and mixed methods, involving principles found in participatory action and community-based research, toward community development. Mike’s hobbies include tinkering, gardening, fishing, and walking the dog.

See Mike's website for more information or send email to

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