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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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7.4 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--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.

In many ways "the online world is the freest community in American life. Its members can do things unacceptable elsewhere in our culture. They can curse freely, challenge the existence of god, explore their sexuality nearly at will, talk to radical thinkers from all over the world. They can even commit verbal treason... The hackers and geeks who founded the Internet believed that there should be no obstacles between people and information... The single dominant ethic in this community is that information wants to be free" (Katz 1998: 220). At the same time, "some network enthusiasts assert that 'information wants to be free,' but an equally vociferous band of digital pioneers contend that the real future of the global Internet lies in metering every drop of knowledge and charging for every sip" (Okerson 1998: 343).

There are arguments for restrictions in cyberspace, which will ultimately test its ability as a facilitator for groups in the margins. Currently in Canada and the U.S., regulators and cyberlibertarians are skirmishing over new laws and regulations to monitor and police cyberspace.

Calling for "selective government regulation of cyberspace," a U.S. law professor argues that "an untrammeled cyberspace would ultimately prove inimical to the ideals of liberal democracy. It would free majorities to trample upon minorities and serve as a breeding ground for invidious status discrimination, narrowcasting and mainstreaming content selection, systematic invasions of privacy, and gross inequalities in the distribution of basic requisites for citizenship in the information age" (Netanel 2000: 395).

But cyberspace is still free territory, for those who can afford to be there. It can still be used in the interests of the margins against the mainstream. Sensitive to the issue of government censorship of Chinese media overseas, by local and home governments, Zhang and Xiaoming conclude that "as the new technology straddles the border between a mass medium and an interpersonal medium with a convergence of mail, information retrieval, message posting and broadcasting functions, an interpersonal exchange of information could easily result in a mass broadcast. The blending of personal communication and mass communication makes it hard for censors to decide where and when to strike." It is hard to "identify and terminate the source of origin" on the Net as well: The authors point to The Tunnel, an underground e-journal published by dissidents in China, who e-mail issues to subscribers overseas, who then post them on foreign websites (1999: 25-26).

I believe that security in cyberspace cannot be achieved by individuals or marginal groups, as long as the superstructure is in the hands of the cyberelite. But this is nothing new for First Nations. Anyone can read smoke signals or trail markers; even when coded or encrypted, they are a locator, as are emails.

The freedom in cyberspace now is more the ability to promote a message, an identity, sharing, and a dialogue - in keeping with the Seventh Fire Prophecy.

Next: 7.5 First Nations in Cyberspace

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