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28 Nov - 1 Dec 96
by John Heilemann
GOP young blood rallies to action
Post of the Day
In praise of Turkey Day
by Cayenne Woods
"Someday the world will be covered by a giant spider web," said a Cherokee elder in the 1950s, according to one Web site. Although she may not have known it, her words predicted the emergence of a new medium that would create ties, organize political action, and facilitate communication among a group of people divided and isolated by genocide, segregation, and poverty. Native Americans have grabbed hold of that spider web, the Internet, counteracting the things that not only divide them from one another but also from other indigenous peoples around the world.
Native Americans have grabbed hold of that spider web, the Internet, counteracting the things that not only divide them from one another but also from other indigenous peoples around the world.
Kinder, Gentler Republicans
Alan Mandell, a Pyramid Lake Paiute born on the Walker River Indian Reservation "a 'number' of years ago," is one of the people who's making it happen. Mandell has worked with others - Daryl Crawford, executive director of the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada; the ITCN board of directors; and Brian Wallace, chairman of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California - to bring most of the Western Nevada tribes online, on NativeWeb. NativeWeb's purpose is "to provide a cyber-place for Earth's indigenous peoples." The site includes a calendar of Native events and a genealogy link for "tracing native roots," plus links to many other resources.
Mandell says it hasn't all been easy. "There have been a number of difficulties ... including, but not limited to, old phone lines [and] extremely remote areas." But the rewards are great. In addition to using the Net for getting current or new information, Mandell tells a story of a local tribal police department using the Internet to transfer high-quality pictures that enabled them to make a positive ID of a suspect.
Mandell also points to the Native Youth Writing Program, which enables young people to receive information as well as publicly display writing and works of art on the Web.
Gary Trujillo manages the Native-L listserv, among others, and the NativeNet homepage, where there is information on everything from Sami grazing rights threatened in Sweden, to Indian lands threatened in Brazil, to a protest of a Turner movie.
Trujillo got on the Net when it was the ARPAnet, back in 1978, and was inspired to build NativeNet after attending a Tribal Lands conference in 1989. The conference, he says, "gave me an understanding of the relationship between environmental problems and the way in which indigenous peoples have been systematically deprived of their human and land rights."
For Trujillo, the importance of new technologies for indigenous people "resides mainly in their capacity to enable group planning processes and mobilization of political support."
Examples of such mobilization include when the Arizona chapter of the American Indian Movement went online in September and organized the recently announced rally and conference on a wide range of Native concerns for 6 December in Phoenix. The Long Walk Against Racism, taking place this week in Australia, is a collaborative effort of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, and was also organized online. The Net this year spawned a little-known campaign to run Native American political prisoner Leonard Peltier as a write-in candidate for president, due to frustration with existing candidates.
Peltier's cause has attracted support and press coverage, but few are familiar with Norma Jean Croy, a Shasta woman who's been in prison nearly as long as Peltier. The press has overlooked her case, leaving the Web as a valuable source of information on her plight.
The Native-L listerv, a large umbrella mailing list on Native issues, deals with the universal problem of "freedom of expression vs. moderation or focus vs. censorship," in a reflection of some of the Net's most commonly discussed issues.
But Native discussion spaces often include the personal, as well as the political. A poster named Devin had tried for 30 years to trace his heritage, and through Native resources online was able to do so. "I am now relearning my language ... and have a Navajo sister I met through the Internet," he wrote.
Indigenous people are keeping up with other technology as well. There is great interest in the Human Genome Project, which seeks private ownership of biological materials. Many tribes are using Geographic Information Systems, a computer-based technology, to map and manage land from an indigenous perspective, and to create one of the most comprehensive databases of reservations in existence. GIS maps can show multiple dimensions and include cultural, historical, and environmental information and impact.
And like most people on the Net, Native Americans have pages with information and features that reflect their everyday lives and intimate interests, including recipes, a Cherokee typeface, and family pictures.
As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, this season is a traditional time to acknowledge the historical contributions of Native Americans. The Web reminds us that the descendants of the Native Americans who contributed food and community spirit to that first feast in 1621 are alive and well and on the move in cyberspace.
Native Americans online. Cool. Who have you been surprised to meet online? Talk about it, in Threads.
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