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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

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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).

N-Geners developed their own, non-exclusive approaches, such as Gnutella, where "members of a network using Gnutella software in essence form a search engine of their own that expands its search exponentially." The system has been shut down by major corporations holding copyright, through actions in the U.S. courts, as has Napster. Nonetheless, the way the system works is typical of distributive software, and its democratic intent: "When a Gnutella user has a query, the software sends it to 10 computers on the network. If the first 10 computers don't have the file, each computer sends it to 10 other computers and so on until, designers say, an estimated million computers would be looking for it in just five to 10 seconds. The program could theoretically check every site on the Web." (Cha 2000). This is networking, working together, for the good of the group. Kazaa continues in this tradition.

The very existence of these free-distributed networks is a statement about the wild nature of the Web and how impossible it seems to be for any dominant group to claim it. It is also a dramatic display of how easily the Net (and society) can be transformed or at least shaken by smart computer programmers who are in their teens.

Communities are changing as well. Children are born into cyberspace and thus assimilate it; adults can only hope to accommodate. Since the kids are the authority, family members must begin to "respect each other for what their authorities actually are. This creates more of a peer dynamic within families" (Tapscott 1998: 37).

Innovations such as the printing press, radio and TV are "unidirectional and controlled by adults" whereas the "new media is interactive, malleable, and distributed in control... (and) children are taking control of critical elements of a communications revolution" (1998: 26). The youth-elder power relation is shifting.

This must be even more so in Native communities, and those communities built on family and extended family, where the computer has already begun to show its downside in terms of family and socialization.

There is idealism in this youthful propensity for sharing, perhaps more akin to traditional Native ways: "N-Geners... find power on the Internet because it depends on a distributed, or shared, delivery system" (unlike the media), and "this distributed, or shared power is at the heart of the culture of interaction" (Tapscott 1998: 79). Cyberspace is a place for youth to interact.

This sharing can also be individually empowering. Foucault presciently talked about the "Web of power," stemming from the "incitement to discourse" about a subject, leading to "increased knowledge on that subject, which leads to power. Power comes from any person who starts a discussion, the discussion forms a web outward to the discussion group, weaves its way out from there to other conversations, and sometimes even returns along the same or new paths to where it started" (1998: 79). Usenet email groups, websites, and chat groups all have these qualities.

The decentralization of power through "open" and "distributed network" programs such as Freenet, Linux and Gnutella has revived the romantic dreams of many a cyberspace pioneer; a free realm where no information gatekeeper exists and where all property is commonly owned. The developers of Gnutella ranged in age from 26 to 16; they were motivated by a love of "invention, freedom and transformation." Gnutella reached over 10,000 machines, storing perhaps two million song files. It is said that "none of the 400-plus people who subscribed to the various Gnutella developers' email lists dared to bring up business proposals." (Cha 2000).

This may have been true of young developers from the mainstream, but I suspect that youth in the communities are doing just that today - trying to find ways to use the Net to generate interest, and income. In remote communities, the Net may serve to provide an essential link to the mainstream, one that could help keep youth in the community. At this time, it is a long shot, given low access rates and lack of training, but it may be a way to the future that can further bridge the Two Worlds.

Next: 7.4 Freedom for the People?

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