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Indians in Cyberspace
by Mike MacDonald

Who is
by Cheryl L'Hirondelle

First Nations in Cyberspace
by Mike Patterson

Editorial Addendum:

Drumbeats to Drumbytes: Globalizing Networked Aboriginal Art

by Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew

Drumbeats to Drumbytes: The Emergence of Networked Indigenous Art Practice

Everywhere, words are mixing. Words and lyrics and dialogue are mixing up in a soup that could trigger a chain reaction. Maybe acts of God are just the right combination of media junk thrown out into the air. The wrong words collide and call up an earthquake. The way rain dances called storms, the right combination of words might call down tornadoes. Too many advertising jingles co-mingling could be behind global warming. Too many television reruns bouncing around might cause hurricanes. Cancer. AIDS.[1]

Rosemary Kuptana said that the effect of southern (urban) broadcasting on Native peoples is like a neutron bomb. "This is the bomb that kills people but leaves the buildings standing. Neutron bomb television is the kind of television that destroys the soul of a people but leaves the shell of a people walking around. This is television in which the tradition, the skills, the culture, the language count for nothing."[2] Aboriginal linguist Eve Fesl described satellite television as a "cultural nerve gas," harmful unless broadcasts are in community languages, helping to convey cultural and linguistic norms.[3] The incredible success of the mass communications industry means that it now penetrates every aspect of our economic, cultural, political, social and personal lives. The social world created by the entertainment media has become the dominant reference point, and our social norms are both created and reinforced in the context of this medium.

Herbert I. Schiller describes how cultural industries in dominant U.S. markets are their strongest sector and carry a "virus of mindless consumerism" that is responsible for "a looming social disaster." He reports on a symposium of 1991 Approaching the Year 2000," noting that, "20 per cent of the world's population consumes 80 per cent of its wealth and is responsible for 75 per cent of its pollution." The symposium concluded that the outcomes of this situation were "the cultural pollution and loss of tradition which have led to global rootlessness, leaving humans, through the intensity of mass-marketing, vulnerable to the pressures of economic and political totalitarianism and habits of mass-consumption and waste which imperil the earth." Schiller describes "the powerful and deadly combination of media, technology, and the market" as the main perpetrators of our deepening global crisis.[4]

The Indigenous peoples' ethnocides[5] being brought about by international media, science, trade, colonialism and world religions-generating a "monoculture of the mind"[6] are extensively documented in the United Nations Environmental Program's publication Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity.[7] Editor Darrell Posey summarizes the point made by many of the authors about the contested values of the term traditional in relation to Indigenous peoples, and the essential role creativity plays in living Indigenous cultures:

Glowka and Burhenne-Guilmin (1994) warn that 'traditional' can imply restriction of the CBD [Convention on Biological Diversity][8] only to those embodying traditional life-styles, keeping in mind that the concept can easily be misinterpreted to mean 'frozen in time.' But Pereira and Gupta (1993) claim, 'it is the traditional methods of research and application,' not just particular pieces of knowledge, that persist in a 'tradition of invention and innovation.'

Posey determines that traditional cultures can successfully confront and incorporate technology and modernity through "vibrant, adaptive and adapting holistic systems of management and conservation." He summarizes that traditional ecological knowledge "is holistic, inherently dynamic, and constantly evolving through experimentation and innovation, fresh insight and external stimuli (Knudtson and Suzuki 1992)."[9]

Ward Churchill places this analysis in a political context by examining humanity's relationship with the natural world.

For the West ... the concept of nature is that of an enemy to be overcome, with man as boss on a cosmic scale. Man in the West believes he must dominate everything, including other [individuals]. The converse is true in Indian civilization, where [humans are] part of an indivisible cosmos and fully aware of [their] harmonious relationship with the universal order of nature. [S]he neither dominates nor tries to dominate. On the contrary, she exists within nature as a moment of it...

Churchill determines that this difference is an essential tool in the struggle against colonial domination.[10]

Indigenous digital artists around the world are deeply engaged with, and provide important contributions to interdisciplinary and cross-community dialogues about cultural self-determination. Their works explore and bear witness to the contemporary relevance of the histories of Indigenous oral cultures and profound connections to their widely varying lands. They also reveal the creative drive that is at the heart of Indigenous survival. The cultures of animist[11] peoples require a continual sensitivity to, and negotiation with the cultures of all of the beings and forces of their interconnected worlds. The ancient process of successfully adapting to their worlds' shifting threats and opportunities-innovating the application of best practices to suit complex and shifting flows-from a position of equality and autonomy within them, is the macro and micro cosmos of contemporary Indigenous cultures: a truly networked way of being.

Darrell Posey uses the term "cosmovision" to describe this interconnected perception of culture that "represents a view of the world as a living being, its totality including not only natural elements such as plants, animals and humans, but also spiritual elements such as spirits, ancestors and future generations." He notes that within the Indigenous cultures, humans belong to nature. This essential point of Indigenous cosmovision "guides and regulates a complex of socio-cultural phenomena such as the organization of the culture and the way of daily life, and determines to a large extent the way in which goals are achieved."[12]

Extending (and to some extent diminishing) these Indigenous concepts of networked cosmovisions into cyberspace has been problematic. The development of digital networks and new media production has been accompanied by the sometimes controversial, divisive and often globalizing dominance of contemporary culture. But their openness and flexibility has also encouraged autonomous spaces and recognition for self-determined, culturally distinct and diverse sources of creativity, exchange and community building.[13] Indigenous artists and communities are transforming these networks and digital spaces. They are participating-from a position of self-determined, collaborative reflection on their unique world views-in the international definition of a new set of cultural practices: those evolving within digital art and creative electronic networking. For some, this is the first time since contact and submergence within dominant, pre-existing European cultural practices that their voices and images are being heard, seen, respected and celebrated outside of their own communities. Significantly, it is also the return of creative cultural voices to communities that have experienced the incarceration, starvation or murder of their creative leaders. Networked art practice is becoming a crucial framework for the emerging recognition and empowerment of Indigenous cultures around the globe.

An essential component of Indigenous digital arts development is a commitment to the progress of Indigenous youth in digital art practice as emerging artists and for the educational value of their participation in arts and cultural production. Important new developments are taking place in the use of digital tools and networks in the fields of Indigenous government, education, health, social services, cultural preservation, languages, business and industry. These endeavours are crucial to the on-going vitality of many Indigenous communities worldwide and will be led by Indigenous youth. But the participation of Indigenous youth in learning and carrying on arts and cultural expression remains an often-neglected focus because other critical, often life-threatening, problems necessarily require immediate attention.

However, the crisis of cultural loss is increasing for Indigenous peoples. Indigenous youth must be supported in becoming artists and cultural producers to stem this tide. A significant and growing body of research also acknowledges that arts education for youth and their participation in, and awareness of the arts are significant contributors to the development of innovation, leadership, community engagement, critical thinking, self-discipline, self-motivated learning, teamwork and self-esteem.[14] These skills are essential for the perceptive vision, adaptability, and intricate cultural negotiation that the rapidly rising demographic of Indigenous youth will require as future leaders of their communities-honouring the teachings of their Elders and celebrating their cultures in a world of increasing complexity, uncertainty and conflict.

Internationally recognized Okanagan writer, artist and community development leader Jeannette Armstrong has written:

I suggest that Aboriginal arts are a necessary facet of individual and community health, containing symbolic significance and relevance integral to the deconstruction of the effects of being colonialized. Reinforcing the reconstruction of what is precious and strengthening the construction of new relationship beyond colonial thought and practice. I suggest also, that the 'bridging-between-cultures' voice using original language, symbol, metaphor and interdisciplinary arts mechanisms where words are not enough, surfacing in Aboriginal artistic practice is an exciting potential and pathway to the exploration of a true multicultural discourse.[15]

Next: Unbearable Whiteness: Globalized (Neo)Colonial Monoculture and the Silences of Poverty and Exploitation

Return to Table of Contents


[1] Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby, Anchor; 2003. [2] Gail Guthrie Valaskakis, Telling Our Own Stories: The Role, Development and Future of Aboriginal Communications, 1998. Quoted from: Brisebois, Debbie. 1983. "The Inuit Broadcasting Corporation." Anthropologica, Vol.25, no.1.

[3]Ideas from the Bush: Indigenous Television in Australia and Canada, Michael Meadows, Queensland University of Technology. Canadian Journal of Communications, Volume 20, Number 2, 1995. [4]Herbert I. Schiller, Media, Technology, and the Market: The Interacting Dynamic, in Culture on the Brink: Ideologies of Technology, eds. Gretchen Bender and Timothy Druckrey (Seattle: Bay Press, 1994), 31-46.
The Morelia Symposium Declaration, "Approaching the Year 2000," reprinted as an advertisement in the New York Times 1 November 1991. "Apparently, the newspaper did not consider the declaration a newsworthy item." [5] Stuart D. Stein, Ethnocide, To be published in Encyclopedia of Race and Ethnic Studies, edited by Ellis Cashmore, Routledge, 2003. "The term ethnocide is generally taken to refer to the destruction of members of a group, in whole or in part, identified in terms of their ethnicity. Its use is conceptually and theoretically closely linked with the term genocide." In relation to the destruction of Indigenous lands and peoples, ecocide might be a better term that reflects the close spiritual, cultural and linguistic relationships that Indigenous peoples have with their ecosystems. Destroying the life of their lands becomes a form of genocide of Indigenous peoples.

[6]Vandena Shiva, Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology, London: Zed Books, 1993.

[7] Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, ed. Darrell Addison Posey, 1999. United Nations Environment Programme, Intermediate Technology Publications, London UK.

[8] Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). "At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders agreed on a comprehensive strategy for "sustainable development" meeting our needs while ensuring that we leave a healthy and viable world for future generations. One of the key agreements adopted at Rio was the Convention on Biological Diversity. This pact among the vast majority of the world's governments sets out commitments for maintaining the world's ecological underpinnings as we go about the business of economic development. The Convention establishes three main goals: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources."

[9] Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, ed. Darrell Addison Posey. 1999. Introduction. p. 9. United Nations Environment Programme, Intermediate Technology Publications, London UK, UNEP. Cited: Glowka, L., Burhenne-Guilmin, F., Synge, H, McNeely, J.A. and GŸndling, L., 1994. A Guide to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Cambridge, UK: IUCN. Gupta, Anil K. and Periera, Winnin 1993. A Dialogue on Indigenous Knowledge, Honey Bee [periodical], 4(4):7-10, 1993. D. M. Warren, L. J. Slikkerveer, and D. Brokensha, eds. The cultural dimension of development: Indigenous knowledge systems. Intermediate Technology Publications, London, UK. Knudtson, Peter; Suzuki, David. 1992. Wisdom of the Elders: Sacred Native Stories of Nature. New York: Bantam Books.

[10] Ward Churchill, I Am Indigenist: Notes on the Ideology of the Fourth World, Quoted: Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, Utopía y Revolución: El Pensamiento Político Contemporáneo de los Indios en América Latina (Mexico City: Editorial Nueva Imagen, 1981) p. 38; translation by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz. Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, Indians of the Americas: Human Rights and Self-Determination (London: Zed Books, 1984) p. 84.

[11] Animism: The belief that all objects, and the universe itself, possess and are animated (given being) by souls. Often associated with Aristotle who held that all living things had a soul, or psyche, which was what made them alive. The vegetative soul was the capacity for nourishment and reproduction. The animal soul included these but in addition the capacities of sensation and movement. Humans had all the foregoing plus the capacity to reason. The idea of animism is rejected by those who support a mechanistic view of science. In the 20th century James Lovelock's Gaia-embodying the idea that the ecosystem as a whole can be viewed as a quasi-living thing-can be seen as an attempt to resuscitate animism, but this time with a scientific spin on it. Minerva Dictionary of Concepts, owned by John Clarke and maintained by Jonathan Irving, Kingston University.

[12] Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, ed. Darrell Addison Posey. 1999. Introduction to Chapter 5, Ethnoscience, 'TEK' and its Application to Conservation by L. Jan Slikkerveer, p. 171. United Nations Environment Programme, Intermediate Technology Publications, London UK, UNEP.

[13] Shadows of Tender Fury, The Letters and Communiqués of Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Trans. F. Fardacke, L. López, and the Watsonville, CA Human Rights Committee, 1995, Monthly Review Press, New York.

"In February of 1998, The CMP [Chiapas Media Project] began as a result of conversations with autonomous Zapatista communities who were requesting access to video and computer technology. The Zapatista's or Zapatista Army of National Liberation, are an Indigenous movement made of up Tzotzil, Chol, Tojolabal, Mum and Tzeltal Mayan Indians. They became known to the world via the Internet on January 1, 1994 when they staged an armed uprising and took over six towns in Chiapas demanding that Indigenous rights be recognized in the Mexican constitution. Another demand was the formation of Indigenous controlled TV and radio throughout Mexico. ... The Chiapas Media Project works with Indigenous and campesino communities in the southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Guerrero. The objective has been to provide these communities with the means to produce their own media and distribute it. The CMP looks for the funding necessary to buy equipment, train community members in video production, post-production and computers and distributes the videos they produce worldwide. Since 1998, the CMP has distributed close to 5,000 videos. The videos are distributed via the Internet, university and college presentations, museums and film and video festivals. "

"This seems to be a revolutionary state of affairs for, perhaps the first time, the Internet allowed members of the international community to comment and affect domestic, local legislation, a privilege once reserved for lobbyists or, at the very least, registered U.S. voters. This might be called "cyber-diplomacy." the cases we studied, the Internet's capabilities provided a new tool for grassroots activists to counter powerful forces of multinational corporations and the regime in Rangoon. Since the Burma campaign raged across phone lines and fiber optic cables, the use of the Internet to advance work on human rights and democracy has spread to Indonesia, Nigeria, Tibet and East Timor, and has taken up such subjects as global warming and East Asian teak forests." Networking Dissent: Cyber-Activists Use the Internet to Promote Democracy in Burma Tiffany Danitz and Warren P. Strobe, 1999.

Designing a Transnational Indigenous Leaders Interaction in the Context of Globalization: A Wisdom of the People Forum (Co-laboratory of Democracy) Final Report 2002. Institute for 21st Century Agoras, Americans for Indian Opportunity, and Advancement of Maori Opportunity.

[14] "Highlights of Arts Education Research", 2002. "Art. Ask for More." is a national arts education public awareness campaign by Americans for the Arts, The Ad Council, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Old Navy, and hundreds of local, state, and national official campaign partners. Nina Ozlu, Vice President of Public and Private Sector Affairs.

[15] National Gathering on Aboriginal Artistic Expression 2002 Reflection Papers, Department of Canadian Heritage.


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