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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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7.5 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 Affairs, 2000)

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 2001: 11).

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 cyberspace.

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!");[25] there is also the warning in the "Funny Moon Message," found on a Native listserv:

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 digital world.

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 self-sufficiency.

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 nonexistent.[26]

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 and physically.

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" (Nelson 2003).[27]

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 Wampum.

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. [ii]

Next: Bibliography

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[25] The first Native astronaut is John Herrington, he flew on the STS-113 mission in November and December 2002.

[26] In contrast, a similar report in the U.S. by the Department of Commerce called Falling Through the Net, Toward Digital Inclusion, 2000, suggests that groups that were traditionally digital have-nots are now making dramatic gains. At

[27] The Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec has offered high-speed Internet in Salluit and Puvirnituq since May 2002 and in Inukjuak since August. Internet access was not disturbed because it relies on the FCNQ cable lines and not Bell Canada phone lines.




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