Some people in the NDN tumblr community have coined a new meaning for the acronym NATO. Forget the imperialism, there is no room for that in the new NATO. Now it means Native Americans Take Over.
There are a lot of concepts this acronym can stand for, but right now it makes me think about the presence of native peoples on the internet.
Some technology has been very slow to reach our communities, particularly those in the north where certain kinds of infrastructure is prohibitively expensive to build and maintain. Some communities still run on dial-up internet connections, a thing that most southern kids probably haven’t even heard of! Cell phone service continues to be spotty once you’re north of Edmonton. For much of the southern population, only having access to a computer via a youth centre or a public library is an antiquated notion, but until very recently (and in some areas this remains true, even outside the north) this was literally the only option for a lot of us.
That absence due to a lack of access has had a palpable effect on the kinds of information and resources ‘out there’. Indigenous voices have not been particularly represented online, in social media or elsewhere. I’ve had spotty access myself over the past 10 years, but during that time I have consistently scoured the interwebs for resources, particularly linked to language development.
The pickings were pretty slim. Until now.
The last two years alone has resulted in an explosion of authentic indigenous language and culture resources on the web… and by authentic I mean ‘actually produced by native communities’. My list of ‘indigenous bookmarks’ grew from a handful of sites, to a list it now takes me forever to scroll through. There is so much new stuff going up that I’m struggling to find the time to review everything and put it up here. Unfortunately, the digital divide still exists, but the gap is narrowing quickly.
We’ve also taken to social media in a way that should surprise no one who is familiar with native peoples. As I’ve noted before, traditions are not technology dependent. We have always had an amazing series of informal networks to pass along information. That this now involves social media is irrelevant to the tradition of interconnectedness. By the way kids, FBI used to mean something besides “Facebook Indian”!
Satellite internet connection, widening cell-phone coverage and the plunging cost of personal computing devices has finally made these platforms more accessible to us. We’ve been quick to use these technologies to our advantage, which again should surprise no one who is familiar with the ways in which our cultures have always integrated new technologies into our traditions.
Access is a serious obstacle to the development of online resources and communities. It doesn’t matter how fantastic your website or online learning platform is when you can only reach a very small percentage of your native audience. But the tide is turning.
More importantly, the access we now have is not mediated or funnelled through non-natives. It’s no longer the case that we are merely being talked about. Now natives are talking to one another. Interconnections are being made and strengthened. Inaccuracies are being directly challenged. Most non-aboriginal people may still never step foot on a reserve or a Settlement, but pretty much every native community has a community website now.
Some argue that having so much more information online means it will be easier for fakes and profiteers to rip us off. I would argue it also makes it much more difficult for that kind of person to get away with it.
Take heed, Mr. Shaman Starshine Blanket Glowing Feather. The NDNs are online now, and when you claim to be a member of the Seneca Nation of Alaska, you’re going to get called out on it.