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)
The Moccasin Telegraph today is a continuation of
communication and creative expression on the part of Natives. In
cyberspace, Native perspectives can become louder and clearer. As
mainstream society learns to understand and respect Natives for who
they are, they are acting in accordance with the Seventh Fire and
Seven Generations Prophecies.
First Nations people are travelling in cyberspace
along with the mainstream, but again as in the Iroquoian Two-Row
Wampum belt of the 1600s, picturing two canoes going parallel down
the river, together but not mixing, Natives have to find unique ways
to use the technology based on Native values and worldviews.
Use of cyberspace should benefit the community by
promoting awareness of Native values, helping to gain mainstream
respect for spiritual practices and prophecies, and through
assisting in the cultural, spiritual and political process of
self-determination. Throughout this country on reserves and in the
cities the people still feel the extreme urgency and concern for
cultural survival, for the preservation of languages and teachings
and the restoration of health to the people. As much as this is
happening in Akwesasne, it is happening in cyberspace.
"The broad, pan-Indian community varies widely, and
the existence of multiple non-Native communities, often in
conflictual relationships with one another, adds layers of
complexity to the relationship between Native media and its varied
audiences." The challenge for Native producers in cyberspace is "to
define their goals relative to the needs of divergent communities:
their home communities, Native tribes across North America,
indigenous people worldwide, and the broader non-Native population
of North America and the world" (Leuthold 1997: 170).
Aboriginal communities find themselves in an interesting
situation. With respect to the digital era, they areÉat the
starting gate with all sectors of Canadian society. (Aboriginal
peoples) also perhaps stand to benefit the most from the digital
era. (Shirley Serafini, Deputy Minister, Indian and Northern
As Canada's economy becomes more knowledge based,
there is "significant danger" that underskilled Natives, and First
Nations, will be excluded from new economic opportunities and will
be pushed further toward the margins of society. They could be left
behind and disenfranchised as the pace of technology adoption and
integration in the economy increases. First Nations "face many of
the same issues and challenges discussed in debates surrounding
information 'haves' and 'have-nots' in the developing world" (Greenall
Most Native communities lack the money, technical
infrastructure and human and technical resources needed to get to
cyberspace, the new global territory. Getting there won't solve the
serious social and economic challenges that many Aboriginal
communities face; but it is a piece of the puzzle in solving complex
problems which require holistic and coordinated approaches on the
part of all in the communities. Natives must prioritize the adoption
IT to avoid falling deeper into the digital divide in Canada, and in
This new territory is just as real as space itself.
Just as real as the space we inhabit, and travel through. There was
a lot of pride, but also there were a lot of jokes at Akwesasne
about the first American Indian astronaut ("smuggling in space!");
there is also the warning in the "Funny Moon Message," found on a
Sent: Thursday, January 09, 2003 2:48 AM
Subject: funny moon message
When NASA was preparing for the Apollo Project, it took the
astronauts to the Navajo Nation in Arizona for training.
One day, a Navajo elder and his son came across the space crew
walking among the rocks. The elder, who spoke only Navajo, asked
a question. His son translated for the NASA people: "What are
these guys in the big suits doing?"
One of the astronauts said that they were practicing for a trip
to the moon. When his son relayed this comment the Navajo elder,
he got all excited and asked if it would be possible to give to
the astronauts a message to deliver to the moon?
Recognizing a promotional opportunity when he saw one, a NASA
official accompanying the astronauts said, "Why certainly!" and
told an underling to get a tape recorder. The Navajo elder's
comments into the microphone were brief. The NASA official asked
the son if he would translate what his father had said.
The son listened to the recording and laughed uproariously. But
he refused to translate. So the NASA people took the tape to a
nearby Navajo village and played it for other members of the
nation. They too laughed long and loudly but also refused to
translate the elder's message to the moon.
Finally, an official government translator was summoned. After
he finally stopped laughing the translator relayed the message:
"Watch out for these pricks. They have come to steal your land."
Are we doomed to revisit the colonial experience in
cyberspace? Yes, if access is denied to most of the Native
community. No, if First Nations can make a leap forward into the
What appears to be emerging is a highly educated, mobile,
internationally networked cohort of knowledge workers on the one
hand and a relatively unskilled, immobile class of workers who
bear most of the costs of the new global order on the other.
This is not the Canadian way. (Thomas J. Courchene, A State of
Minds: Canadians in the Information Era, working paper 10, 2000)
The challenge for Canada is to develop strategies
that build its overall level of technological development and
competitiveness, while creating an equitable distribution of
resources and benefits among all communities.
Natives are increasingly participating in the global
economy, and the knowledge economy. Building technological skills
and is key to education, employment and self-sustainability.
Communities need help and support to make it to cyberspace in time,
before the IT revolution sweeps by. Today, many Natives in Canada
would agree with Iroquois artist William Powless: "The information
highway is criss-crossing the earth, and I am roadkill by the ditch"
(in Marple 1998).
A coordinated effort is needed to facilitate the
process of matching needs with options and solutions by bringing
government, business and Aboriginal leaders together. Doing so will
help First Nations to develop the capacity to meet the skill and
labour needs of the knowledge economy and continue towards economic
If cyberspace is "where your money lives," First
Nations are not rushing to the bank. The Dual Digital DivideÑThe
Information Highway in Canada published by the Public Interest
Advocacy Centre in 2000 suggests that it is highly unlikely that the
digital divide will be overcome in the near future. It points out
that in lower social classes connectivity remains low and,
comparatively, the digital divide has widened since 1996.[i]
Particularly in northern communities, infrastructure is almost
But the Net is essential, particularly in the North.
Like the Inuit in the Keewatin with their GPS, remote communities
will find the Internet to be a place of life or death, culturally
On January 31, high-speed Internet saved the day in
Salluit, QuŽbec, as a blizzard knocked out phone lines in the
community, but not cable modems. The three-day snowstorm began Jan.
29 and raged across both coasts of Hudson Bay with winds measuring
up to 120 km/h before subsiding on February 1. But though it
affected many communities, tearing shacks from their foundations in
Kangiqsujuaq and delaying the search for a missing hunter in
Nunavut, its impact on Salluit was particularly hard felt. The storm
eliminated almost all communication for 15 hours between the village
of roughly 1,200 and the outside world.
The Internet allowed the village to contact the
government in Kuujjuaq and let it know long distance lines were not
working. It provided a ready backup for the phone system. Salluit's
mayor, Qalingo Angutigirk, said "This is the worst storm to hit us
this winter... because of Internet access... we had nothing to worry
about. We have used it in the past where phone lines failed. It's a
great tool that we didn't have before and it's very beneficial"
Cyberspace is rapidly becoming the central
communication medium for Natives in remote communities, on the res,
and in the cities. It remains to be seen how the people will fare in
this new territory, but it is essential to find ways of providing
access to IT, and the education to use it. As with the horse, Native
peoples have to adopt this new technology, and move into this new
space. It is another case of needing to adopt the White man's ways,
while maintaining Native traditions - Two Worlds, and the Two-Row
As with the Seven Generations and Seventh Fire
prophecies, pointing to the urgency of forging new relationships and
understandings, these teachings are not new, they are finding a new
home in cyberspace. William Redhawk writes on his website (which I
found while researching the Ghost Dance):
Many Horses was an Oglala Sioux medicine man, a friend of
Sitting Bull, and a promoter of the Ghost Dance as the last
protection against the white man's incursions. He organized the
final Ghost Dance at Standing Rock Reservation in the Spring of
1890, to dance away the white soldiers camped at the foot of the
hills. At dawn the white tipis of the U.S. Army were still
visible, and Many Horses, with a heart full of grief, knew that
the magic had failed. But the Great Spirit spoke to him. Turning
his back on the rising sun, he addressed the assembled warriors:
"I will follow the white man's trail. I will make him my friend,
but I will not bend my back to his burdens. I will be cunning as
a coyote. I will ask him to help me understand his ways, then I
will prepare the way for my children, and their children. The
Great Spirit has shown me a day will come when they will outrun
the white man in his own shoes."
All other recorded prophecies of Many Horses have come to pass.
The nations of the People see the beginnings of this final
prophecy today. We have the white man's shoes.
Return to Table of Contents