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Realizing Cultural Sovereignty Through Internet Applications

by Frank Odasz
Lone Eagle Consulting
2200 Rebich Lane
Dillon, Montana, USA 59725
Ph/Fax: 406-683-6270
Email: frank@lone-eagles.com
Web: http://lone-eagles.com

The full paper as submitted is at http://lone-eagles.com/village-sustainability.htm and contains a long listing of Alaskan Native Village Ecommerce grant templates.


The potential power of thoughtful use of Internet to support the sovereignty and sustainability of tribes is too great to take the effectiveness of measurable community engagement and Internet empowerment lightly.

This paper addresses the challenges of designing and delivering a culturally appropriate community curriculum to deliver the highest levels of motivation and measurable benefit - requiring the least amount of time and effort….and requiring the lowest level of pre-requisite literacy. Emphasis is on those processes most likely to effectively involve tribal members to generate measurable outcomes such as local web-based content, collaborative sharing of skills, Ecommerce applications, and visions for yet greater applications in support of their cultural community.

The opportunity exists to use the Internet to gather and share locally those strategies proven to be successful elsewhere. Providing access to the tools alone has not proven to guarantee that the job of creating sustainable cultural communities will be accomplished.

The Capstone Vision

"The world's diverse cultures jointly represent the full cultural genome of humankind's search for individual and group identity and meaning."

The immediate need exists to record for posterity this invaluable shared story of humankind with immediate emphasis on the cultural knowledge of our elders while the opportunity still exists. There is limited time to accomplish this important task. Half the 6,000 languages worldwide will be extinct in one lifetime. The vast cultural knowledge of our elders must be recorded via multimedia storytelling for preservation while they are still with us.

15,000 cultures have the opportunity to build on proven successes as opposed to replicating past mistakes made by others. Those first to explore the potential of the Internet will have the advantage of the powerful sharing and community-building capabilities of the Internet to first empower themselves - and then to inform and teach global cultures on the most culturally appropriate and empowering Internet applications which they have themselves validated.

Due to new satellite and wireless technologies - it is becoming increasingly economically feasible to bring solar-powered high speed Internet connectivity to remote indigenous communities worldwide. While the vision is that indigenous communities will be dramatically empowered by this access - the effective training and changes in behavior to achieve the potential empowerment have proven to present significant challenges.

It will ultimately prove to be the level of vision, will, motivation, training, and the ability to take collaborative action - that will determine the level of benefits realized from Internet access.

Half the global population has never made a first phone call, but most may receive high speed Internet in our lifetime through new satellite and wireless technologies. Will they receive culturally appropriate instruction on both the risks and the benefits? If so, from whom, and how soon? It took 25 years for the telephone to become a part of modern society. What will indigenous peoples lose if it takes as long to realize the potential of the Internet?

Many indigenous peoples are among the first 1% of the world's indigenous peoples to have the opportunity, the honor, and the responsibility to be first to assess both the risks and the benefits of Internet access for traditional cultures. The opportunity exists to use the Internet to gather and share locally those strategies proven to be successful elsewhere. Providing access to the tools alone has not proven to guarantee that the job of creating sustainable cultural communities will be accomplished.

One of the key challenges regarding empowerment training - based on the experience of Lone Eagle Consulting - is that one can't lend their wings to others until they are ready.

Lone Eagle Consulting's Mission Statement

Lone Eagle Consulting strives to maintain the small circle of the very best
Internet learning pathways, requiring the least time and effort, to deliver the
highest levels of benefit and motivation for people of all cultures and literacy levels.

A Fatal Flaws Analysis

The following five components are recommended for consideration as part of a "Fatal Flaws Analysis" for all Indigenous Internet projects.

1. Leaders need to integrally understand themselves what they advocate
for others.
Those in leadership positions are often not computer or Internet users and risk basing their technology and training decisions on dangerous assumptions. Leaders need to gain direct hands-on experience with the technology with emphasis on seeing first-hand the specific applications they are advocating for tribal members. Good intentions cannot replace factual knowledge and direct experience with the broad range of potential Internet applications. Leaders should not expect others to adopt new technology applications if they are not prepared to do so themselves.

2. Empowerment comes from the specific Internet applications tribal
members will actually engage, not the just installation of

While Internet physical infrastructure is certainly a logical first step, the benefits of infrastructure are not automatic or assured. For each dollar invested in infrastructure, a dollar should be invested for training or serious under-utilization is likely to devalue the infrastructure investment. It cannot be assumed that the most empowering Internet applications will be obvious and will be realized. Internet Infrastructure is not the same as installing good plumbing where tribal members' participation or changes in behavior are not required. The levels of empowerment will be defined by the application of new skills and by the number of tribal members who gain and exercise these specific new skills.

3. Defining measurable outcomes will prove to define success.

Emphasis should be on the desired final measurable outcomes, not just on installation of infrastructure. Many projects have proved unable to measure the promised benefits to justify the expense of Internet infrastructure and monthly Internet fees. Identifying the specific Internet applications desired has a great deal to do with specific decisions regarding the most appropriate infrastructure required. Don't buy what you're not prepared to use.

It should be expected that it will take years to grow the visions and skills for the highest levels of Internet empowerment. Paying high fees for infrastructure which will be primarily unused at the cost of sacrificing funding for skills training has proven repeatedly to not produce the desired outcomes. Planning on figuring out how to use the infrastructure after a tribe has invested heavily has proven to waste huge sums of money. As costs for infrastructure are steadily dropping, it is important to realize that many skills can be taught using lower-speed Internet systems to prepare tribal members to make best use of higher speed systems when they become affordable.

4. Collaborative skills and community networking bring the highest

If individuals use the Internet primarily to 'leave the village' to explore the Internet instead of collaborating and sharing knowledge locally, then the local community is not likely to benefit at the highest levels possible.

Collaborative action to gather the best-of-the-best to post on local web pages as well as sharing skills with those who need friendly mentoring will bring the highest levels of benefit to an indigenous community. Today, we're hunters and gatherers of ideas and information that can sustain the tribe - which is really not so different than it was for former generations. The opportunity exists to use the Internet to gather and share locally those strategies proven to be successful elsewhere.

Understanding the true potential the Internet offers will require community-wide hands-on experience, regular community events to showcase new applications, and social recognition for those who bring new skills to the village and teach them to others.

It should be decided which specific skills every tribal member needs to gain, such as email, browsing, and searching skills. It should also be decided which skills need to be present in every village - made available to everyone by those who have attained high skill levels and are willing to share their skills. Examples include skills for creating web pages, manipulating digital images, creating digital artwork, multimedia storytelling, and sending photos of local products and crafts for sale to Ebay and other Ecommerce sites on the Internet.

5. Know how to deal with the risks of Internet to traditional culture
before cultural damage can occur.

There is much current emphasis on the risks cultures face from not having Internet access. But, there needs to be far more emphasis on the risks culture will face FROM Internet access! For example, sixty percent of general Internet use is for access to pornography. If a tribe brings Internet to all tribal homes without a strategy for dealing with this issue, negative impacts on local culture are possible.

When presented with the question "What would you like most like to find on the Internet" one tribal member stated honestly "How to make drugs from floor cleaner." This information is available via Internet as is bomb-making and hate literature. Additional issues to be carefully considered are child safety, privacy, and copyright/authenticity protection for tribal intellectual property and products.

Despite these risks, Internet technology may be the most powerful option available for cultures to protect and preserve traditional culture and values. Information technology is just a tool, but a very powerful tool - which can be used for both positive and negative purposes. Whoever brings such power to tribal members bears the great responsibility to assure that it is not misused.

Lessons Learned from Rural America

Rural communities in the U.S. in the mid-nineties viewed local dial-up Internet access as essential to their economic survival - and today call for broadband speeds. But, careful examination of the facts reveals that few community training programs accompanied the introduction of local dial-up Internet and as a direct result few citizens benefited at the level that was anticipated. Evidence is dramatically mounting that the process by which people come to embrace the full potential the Internet puts at their fingertips has yet to be demonstrated.

The presumption has been that Internet infrastructure would bring automatic economic and social benefits much like the railroad did in the past century, but this has not proved to be the case.

In the mid-eighties when the Internet was text-only and hard to use, early adapters fought for local dial-up access based on their vision for high levels of online collaboration and electronic democracy - not simply solo-browsing as is the dominant application today.

The U.S. slump in technology stocks is due in part to the fact that people have not embraced the empowering potential of the Internet as quickly as was hoped. Changing human behavior requires far more than just wiring a community.

In many rural U.S. communities the Internet is viewed not as a rural economic development solution and pipeline to global markets, but as a time-wasting toy best suited for children. After the slump in technology stocks many feel the promise of the Internet was proved to be false. In reality we are limited only by our imaginations…which has proved to often be a severe limitation!

Access to technology cannot presume that citizens will train themselves to high levels of proficiency. For example - only five percent of those (one in twenty) with VCR's have learned to program them to record programs automatically. Learning to benefit from the Internet will require more new skills than learning to program a VCR!

In most rural communities, heads will nod at the following statement. "We've yet to see a rural community benefit significantly from the Internet." Because installation of the Internet didn't automatically produce visible economic benefits, many feel this disproved the potential of the Internet. At the same time, early adapters in most rural communities are already demonstrating Ecommerce successes, but their innovations are often ignored by those who shun technology.

International rural and indigenous communities need to thoroughly understand the lessons learned by other communities so they don't literally waste years replicating what has already proven not to work. One of the best features of Internet connectivity is that you can easily gather state-of-the-art knowledge on what does work, but having Internet access does not automatically mean this knowledge will be sought out and well utilized. In fact, our past habits of independence often lead us to ignore the access to these new sources of information.

Gaining Clarity on the Specific Challenges

In question - is which community curriculum can prove to deliver the highest levels of motivation and measurable benefit - requiring the least amount of time and effort….and perhaps requiring the lowest level of pre-requisite literacy? How can we most effectively get citizens involved to generate measurable outcomes, local web-based content, and widespread motivation?

The process to be operationally defined is one of:
1. Growing accurate awareness as to what's possible

2. Establishing a shared vision around measurable goals

3. Establishing a widespread skills development and citizen engagement strategy

4. Establishing a sustainable process for encouraging ongoing learning, skills
sharing, and innovation