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Issue # 1

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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

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

The non-Aboriginal Canadian arts community continues an insecure insistence on self-referentiality that generally revolves around a comparative competition for higher standing on the world stage (read first-world Euro-American). In this competition, dominant Canadian culture can admit little or no influence from Aboriginal contemporary and pre-contact histories, for fear of being tainted by their own imposed images of Aboriginal inferiority and invalidity, or of having this delusional propensity exposed. For the most part though, this is not a consciously chosen failure of critical awareness, because few critical and historical resources are available to enable non-Aboriginal people understand its scope and mechanics-a systemic (and again often unconscious) neo-colonial strategy of non-Aboriginal cultural and educational institutions.

The historians and policy-makers who constructed it sought to create a condition of improbability-improbability that anyone educated in this way could ever develop the potential to honestly and critically analyze the relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and Canadians, i.e. the 'real' world around herself or himself. This condition of improbability is designed to prevent even the conceptualization of social change. It is meant to prevent any movement away from existing oppressive relationships and to unquestioningly sustain the current socio-political system of Euro-dominance.[16]

In the educational system, non-Aboriginal Canadian children are well protected from the evidence of complicity in colonial oppression. At the same time, they are equipped to carry on with it through overt, institutionalized, systemic and subliminal messages that maintain the image of Aboriginal culture as an unwelcome, uncooperative and disabled other-if they get any messages about Aboriginal people at all. An extensive analysis of how this phenomenon operates in Canada is provided in a report by the Coalition for the Advancement of Aboriginal Studies (CAAS). It examines Paulo Freire's theory of the pedagogy of the oppressed (Freire, 1971) as a starting point.

...a pedagogy of oppression requires that both the young of the dominant social class and the young of the marginalized class must be indoctrinated with the same overall message. Using the politically charged Aboriginal Studies curriculum, policy-makers have striven to ensure that each class (dominant = Canadian settlers; marginalized = Aboriginal Peoples) is prepared, shaped, molded, for its role in the overall social structure. One social group in Canada must be taught superiority and the other inferiority, but both are taught from the same book. ... This is 'tough work' for the power elite, because of the contradiction between this hegemonic pedagogical goal and the fact that Canada is a social democracy that simultaneously advocates protection and recognition of human rights and freedom of opinion.[17]

This pedagogy of oppression is generally played out in the normative values of institutional structure rather than obvert policy. What is not required for academic achievement is more revealing than what is required. Almost no non-Aboriginal institution of higher learning requires knowledge of Aboriginal culture or history for the acquisition of professional credentials for mainstream cultural practice. No major cultural institutions require it of them as a factor of professional standing, and Aboriginal professionals among their ranks are just barely emerging from positions of tokenism and transient, temporary employment in these contexts.

Artist, curator and writer Steven Loft determines that universities are the core site of this exclusionary stance and asks why the curriculum does "not reflect (or even include, in most cases) Aboriginal expression as an historical and contemporary art aesthetic. How do we expect significant change to occur at any level when our basic institutionalized education system refuses to acknowledge that any change is necessary, desirable or warranted?" He argues that "real and substantive recognition of Aboriginal art at all levels of arts discourse in Canada" cannot come about unless exclusionary and racist systemic barriers are targeted for significant re-evaluation within "major public art institutions, the ones we would and should expect to be the centres of critical dialogue."[18]

These constructs spread their cultural "neutron bombs" and "nerve gases" into the online arts realm, and not only for Aboriginal peoples-they are far more pervasive. In her article "The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: African American Critical Theory and Cyberculture," Kalí Tal notes that:

In cyberspace, it is finally possible to completely and utterly disappear people of color. I have long suspected that the much vaunted "freedom" to shed the 'limiting' markers of race and gender on the Internet is illusory, and that in fact it masks a more disturbing phenomenon-the whitinizing of cyberspace...The irony of this invisibility is that African American critical theory provides very sophisticated tools for the analysis of cyberculture, since African American critics have been discussing the problem of multiple identities, fragmented personae, and liminality for over a hundred years.[19]

The failure of critical theory in academia to address cultures of colour arises from the exclusionary conditions that Steve Loft has described-conditions supported by a pedagogy of oppression that systemically submerges issues of race beneath a colourless version of liberal democracy. "Colourlessness" also has major implications for the creation and performance of identity, both individual and communal-aggressively limiting culturally specific dialogue. Lisa Nakamura maps out this point, starting with McKenzie Wark's statement "We no longer have roots, we have aerials." She describes how the attempt to debase the foundations of cultures that use a sense of rootedness to oppose fragmentation and dissolution "seems an unequal, unreal proposition, considering the glaring inequities in access to the Internet, much less wireless communications, which apply to most people of color." In opposing colourlessness, Nakamura determines that we must be attentive to "the ways in which racial, gendered, and cultural histories and the identities conditioned by them in turn shape the discourses which are audible in and about cyberspace."[20]

The issues that require resistance and offer opportunities for collaborative action spread far beyond issues of race in the United States. They are situated in the realm of transnational activist movements. These issues are also crucial to an analysis of engaged, activist networked art practice-especially for Aboriginal peoples. "Global civil society, we both agree, is not really made up of single-issue actors (as old social movement theory has it), but rather of a more free-floating protest network potential (to paraphrase Heidegger and Dieter Rucht) that moves from issue to issue."[21] This is a computer-linked network of global social movements that are challenging capitalist policy-making institutions through diverse, guerilla-style projects that are self-determined and reject old ideas of a unified socialism. Harry Cleaver defines the threat and challenges these movements face.

In response to these struggles, the threatened institutions are responding in various ways, sometimes by military and paramilitary force, sometimes by co-optation aimed at reintegrating the antagonistic forces. The problem for us is finding ever new ways to defeat these responses and continue to build new worlds.[22]

In her epic work of fiction Almanac of the Dead, Leslie Marmon Silko provides an analysis of many of the tides and actors at work in the globalization process. Bridget O'Meara traces the Almanac's conflicted world, wherein she finds that capitalist production is a form of sacrificial violence protected by civil society and the state. Indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups must struggle against these processes for both social and ecological survival, through:

strategically transgressive networks that resist oppression, exploitation, and destruction along multiple axes. ... Subaltern communities build complex movements that simultaneously address a wide range of issues, recognizing 'their multiple-identities and the various lines of power and domination that need to be resisted and challenged. In Almanac of the Dead, the reoccupation of land advances from various coexistent geopolitical, social, and spiritual locations.[23]

In his discussion of women's politics on the net, anthropologist and political ecologist Arturo Escobar provides another approach that can guide how Aboriginal networked artists engage in resistance in order to achieve self-determination or "self-government in art." The struggle he describes is especially important in terms of defense of place and political ecology, two essential components of Indigenous self-determination. feminist cybercultural politics, women struggle simultaneously against the control of cyberculture by male-dominant groups and against the restructuring of the world by the same technologies they seek to appropriate. To the extent that women's cybercultural politics is linked to the defense of place, it is possible to suggest that it becomes a manifestation of feminist political ecology. This political ecology would similarly look at gendered knowledge; gendered rights and responsibilities concerning information and technology, and gendered organizations. It would examine, in short, the gendering of technoscience and cyberspace.[24]

The environment of cyberculture is one of many nested, overlapping and interconnected cultures, repositories and processes with contested divisions and definitions. We each see it in terms of our local perceptions, the relationships that we carry out in cyberspace, and the ways it stimulates and limits our creativity. A networked art practice engaging with social justice must also take into consideration issues of globality, even, or especially, when local issues are at stake-global forces strike at home and everywhere.

Next: The Animasphere: Reconsituting Globalization Through Networked Indigeneities

Return to Table of Contents


[16] CAAS (Coalition for the Advancement of Aboriginal Studies). ND [2002]. Learning About Walking in Beauty: Placing Aboriginal Perspectives in Canadian Classrooms.Report prepared for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF).

[17] CAAS (Coalition for the Advancement of Aboriginal Studies). ND [2002]. Learning About Walking in Beauty: Placing Aboriginal Perspectives in Canadian Classrooms. Report prepared for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF).

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

[19] The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: African American Critical Theory and Cyberculture by Kalí Tal [1996].

[20] Keeping it (Virtually) Real: The Discourse of Cyberspace as an Object of Knowledge in Cyberculture Studies as American Studies: Locating Design, Discourse, and Diversity in Cyberspace, Lisa Nakamura, 2000.

[21] Dr. Richard Rogers, A Narrative of the Software Project, Downloaded from, January 20, 2005. is an Amsterdam-based foundation dedicated to creating and hosting political tools on the Web. Much of the work involves mapping issue networks on the Web, using the Issue Crawler software.

[22] Computer-linked Social Movements and the Global Threat to Capitalism, Harry Cleaver, 1999.

[23] The Ecological Politics of Leslie Silko's Alamanac of the Dead, Bridget O'Meara, Wicazo Sa Review, Fall 2000. Quoted: Laura Pulido, Environmentalism and Economic Justice: Two Chicano Struggles in the Southwest, Tucson: U. of Arizona Press, 1996. See also Stuart Hall's formulation of "New Ethnicities," which rather than being fixed and stable are constituted in relation to multiple discursive and material formations, in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, New York: Routledge, 1996.

[24] Gender, place and networks: A political ecology of cyberculture, by Arturo Escobar in women@internet: Creating New Cultures in Cyberspace, Wendy Harcourt, ed., London: Zed Books , 1999. Quoted in review by Kalí Tal, 2001, Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies.


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