The authenticity of what combination of Internet Infrastructure, and skills training program models, will work best for Native American communities can only come from the direct participation by, and candid assessment by, Native Americans themselves. Such authenticity is invaluable to those infrastructure businesses, and government agencies, advocating the Internet as an effective citizen and community empowerment tool. The lack of identifiable models for community empowerment, after over ten years and hundreds of community networking projects, bears important lessons.
Its time for the top-down builders of these networks to partner with the bottom-up intended users in new and meaningful ways. It will ultimately be the authenticity of benefits proven by tribal members themselves that will prove what does and doesn't work. This knowledge is invaluable to corporations, government and those seeking answers to the digital divide challenges.
Empowerment comes first from the ability to access self-directed learning via relevant and timely information as needed and on a regular basis, then to be able to experience online communication, initially with family members, then to self-publish on the web your message and/or self-market your business or products globally at minimal expense. The highest level of empowerment comes from developing skills for close collaboration and co-development of ideas and action initiatives both locally and globally, the Internet allows for higher levels of coordination than has ever before been possible. One hidden truth is that the Internet can bring to one caring person's efforts a profound scalability of impact upon benefiting many, many others.
However, these higher levels of coordination and empowerment have proved extremely elusive particularly when funding for training has not been included in the overall Internet empowerment plan. Such coordination requires both vision and diligence to make it happen, and this 'shared collaborative mutual empowerment vision' has been the most elusive component in the whole Internet empowerment arena. The potential for effective community networking and electronic democracy is very real, but the who, what and how are not obvious.
It is often presumed that given Internet access, such empowerment applications will be obvious and everyone will apply themselves directly to the task of realizing these projected benefits. The opposite has proven true. Without any specific commitment from specific persons as to who will learn and actively create and implement the specifics, very little happens as everyone expects this is someone else's responsibility, not theirs. Computer labs created with funding coming to one community organization often do not open up to the general community, citing limitations in staffing and technical maintenance. Assumptions regarding the processes for 'building learning communities' have proven to be disasterous. The trend has been focusing on training individuals to work as individuals, not on teaching how people can help each other in now and powerful ways to build sustainable communities.
Asking the Hard Questions
If a community fully understood what was possible to create for the community, how would they proceed? They'd sign up specific participants to gain specific skills and would keep the whole community continually informed as to who has learned what, and who can help others learn specific skills. Public ongoing community self-assessment is fundamentally necessary, and doable.
The need exists to jointly overcome the common fear of appearing to be showing off by learning and sharing new technology-related skills. In Japan there is a saying "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down." This attitudinal barrier is very real in Native American communities. Working together to fight information overload and meeting specific individual needs through efficient collaboration need to be understood as an accepted norm.
As web resources potentially helpful to the community are identified, they would be listed as summative rosters to aid others in quickly connecting to the best resources for local use. The best self-empowerment successes proven in other communities would be quickly shared and where appropriate, quickly adopted. Online town meetings and event calendars and easy access to rosters of local mentors by topic would likely be initial applications.
The opportunity exists to gather and share rapidly wisdom to meet the many needs. Getting as many people as possible directly involved in developing empowerment skills and in helping others would become a community priority.
The Capstone Vision
The world's diverse cultures represent the human genome of
humankind's search for individual and group identity.
The immediate need exists to record for all time this invaluable shared story of humankind, and the cultural knowledge of our elders, while the opportunity still exists. We have limited time to prepare. Can we move to higher ground before the wave of change overwhelms us all? Half the 6000 languages worldwide will be extinct in one lifetime.
Native American's are 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 to traditional cultures, both their own and then others, worldwide. Half the global population has never made a 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?
My hope is Native American's will take advantage of the powerful sharing and community-building opportunities to first empower themselves and then to inform and teach global cultures on the most culturally appropriate uses.
Today, we're hunters and gatherers of ideas and information that can sustain the tribe. Not so different than former generations. There's an immediate need for Native Scouting Parties and Virtual Circuit Riders.
Over the past 20 years, and more recently as Lone Eagle Consulting, I have found I can't lend my wings to others until they are ready. In many of my past attempts sharing my vision with corporations, foundations and government, I've met with that blank cow-eyed stare. I'm watching for those with the eagle eye glint that shows me 'they are ready.'
Premise:It will ultimately be the level of vision, will/motivation, and ability to take collaborative action that will determine the level of benefits of Internet access.
Lone Eagle Consulting Mission Statement
Lone Eagle Consulting strives to maintain the small circle of the very best