Race and the Digital: Racial Formation and 21st Century Technologies

"Native Americans and the Digital Divide" by Ebony Paramo

Week 3 Blogging: "Digital Divide" 

Media Summary

Citation: "Ahniwake Rose on Native American Digital Divide" ComcastNewsmaker Video, 4:36, posted by "ComcastNewsmakers", July 30, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oO_H10UHvoE. 

In "Ahniwake Rose on Native American Digital Divide" video, Comcast Newsmaker host Robert Traynham addresses the digital divide Native Americans face in the United States, alongside Ahniwake Rose, executive director of the National Indian Education Association. In the United States, where the president wants 99% of children and adults to have access to the internet and be "digitally connected" in order to have a "better quality of life", tribal community institutions fail to give their inhabitants what most Americans have: Internet access. Rose states that she is hopeful for a future where every child and adult has Internet access, but is doubtful of the Utopian hope. Native Americans/tribal communities usually are the individuals that fall within the one percent of those not digitally connected, since they live in rural areas and typically in small numbers. Traynham goes on to suggest ways tribal communities can help themselves, to essentially "create hot-spots people can travel to...or spend money on resources to set the lines for internet connection". It is not merely a question of having access to internet connection; it is also a question of communities making sure that the quality of the lines ensure a strong and stable transmission of the connection that lasts. Rose points out that schools are the "hubs of the community", signaling that internet is needed in these spaces. Not only is internet crucial for the students of tribal communities in their use of completing scholarly activities, but may help for them in acquiring familiarity with areas of study surrounding STEM (e.g. computing), as the United States' future will largely rely on this field. With internet, STEM and (surprisingly as Rose mentions) basic curriculum will be available for students and teachers so as to catch them up with the rapid evolution of education. Large technological employers are interested in having a diverse team, but how can they create one if ethnic individuals lack familiarity and knowledge of areas like the internet and computing? The internet will allow tribal community members to strengthen their skills and sharpen their knowledge in order to be at the basic level mainstream society requires.  Traynham mentions an excellent comparison of the tribal community and the mainstream, calling the former "19th century America that is not connected" and the latter as "21st century America that is connected"; Rose asks for non-Natives to reach out to Congressman, Senators and also within one's consciousness to include Native Americans when one plans to better our own communities.

Reading Summary

Citation: Sandvig, C. (2012). Connection at Ewiiaapaayp Mountain: Indigenous Internet Infrastructure. In: L. Nakamura & P. Chow-White (eds.). Race After the Internet, pp. 168-200. New York: Routledge.

In the work, "Connection at Ewiiaapaayp Mountain: Indigenous Internet Infrastructure", author Christian Sandvig examines a case study of the Tribal Digital Village (referred throughout the text as TDV), which is a "...solar wireless Internet distribution network that serves Indian lands in Southern California" (Sandvig 2012: 169). He argues that this university-turned-public-service-initiative became a success based on the giving of federal subsidies and the genuine intentions of community members and community allies to serve the people; the TDV did not grow due to people's greedy intentions of earning monetary profits.  Sandvig uses qualitative research/evidence such as the experiences of the Ewiiaapaayp, Mesa Grande, and Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation inhabitants: (e.g. Ewiiaapaayp's Chairman X who does not have electricity but checks his email every morning; Candice "Punky", a Mesa Grande resident and a skeptical teenager that ultimately admitted to using the Internet for educational purposes and well as for entertainment, like MySpace; Duane, Mesa Grande resident who explained people's worried of using the Internet for things not of an educational nature; and Joseph, in Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation, who is an apprentice network engineer then to be a casino valet). Moreover, foundational to the reading is the author's explanation of what access means to tribal communities. In these places, the leaders, the "'[t]ribal elders...act as gatekeepers of traditional knowledge' (Warner 1998: 77)" (Sandvig 2012: 179). They do not want to assimilate into a culture that was created and exists today from one that took apart the culture of their ancestors. From being forcibly placed in a United States wasteland to being given the things that they so rightfully deserve, people in tribal communities face difficulty in taking advantage of the new opportunities they are given as it reminds them of their past, their past encounters with oppression, and their present reality filled with stigma and their marginalized position in the outskirts of United States mainstream society. But perhaps without such opportunities, individuals like Michael would never learn that he has talent for wireless network, or come to discover that their mountains would be just the thing they need to sustain a tower to bring Internet connection for their community. It would be interesting to know if the use of the word "Connection" in the title refers to Internet connection or does it refer to the Indigenous tribes connection to their culture and traditions.  


It is very notable to discover that in the era where technology is prevalent, people may be considered disabled, per se, if they do not have access to resources taken for granted by 'normal' people, like the internet. No longer are physical and mental disabilities the norm to define people that are unable to carry out activities that others are able to do so daily. Not having Internet hinders the progress of many individuals, like the Native Americans mentioned in these works.  Both the YouTube video and the class reading pinpoint on a very specific situation: there is limited to no Internet access in the lives of Native Americans, and this needs to change. The media and the reading focus on education as being the main reason why Internet access would be granted to these disadvantaged communities. However, the Internet is not solely used for educational purpose, as Sandvig shares that teenagers enjoy using social media like MySpace to interact with others, and Comcast Newsmaker hints at the face that Internet access may help prepare individuals to be top contenders for employment opportunities. All initial attempts to create a color-blind society, "the possibility of placelessness...[where] the Internet [can be a place where] every user could be equal" (Sandvig 2012: 178), is missing, like Internet connection is missing in tribal communities. Color/ethnicity plays into class which then plays into people's ability to afford things like the Internet. It causes people to make decisions based on their financial means, like choosing between a computer or food and water, as Native Americans understand and engage in. The reading (and to an extent the video) helps its audience be aware that they have the power to create change, because sometimes if communities do not band together to do so, their circumstances will not improve. They may have the drive, but the groups need allies to pave the road for change they will continue to travel on until they reach equality. These groups consist of usually ethnic individuals (e.g. African-Americans, Chicanas/os, Native Americans) and allies are for the most part non-ethnic (Euro-Americans), although scenarios can vary. Clearly the Internet has not gotten rid of identity markers, and anonymity failed to exist. The Internet's capability to reach out to almost everyone should speak to this issue, should be the platform used to erase racial barriers, and proceed to figuring out how those connected can connect those not connected. Being White and wealthy does not determine privilege anymore; Internet access is now able to determine privilege too. 

Discussion Questions

1) The Tribal Digital Village project stemmed from an "experimental university project" (Sandvig 2012: 174). Can education be the answer to bridge the digital divide between 'the privileged and the underpriviliged' (the privilege being those that have Internet access and the underprivileged those that do not)? Furthermore, non-Native individuals mentioned in the text, like German-born engineer and TDV pioneer Hans-Werner Braun and Matt, contributed to getting Native Americans access to this resource. Knowing this, how can allies help in making sure that every person, Native Americans, Chicanas/os, etc, are able to be connected to the Internet and other technological resource?

2) Sandvig states, "...the continuing mismatch of infrastructure development on reservations does make for some Internet users that are quite unusual off Native lands, and it does provide circumstances where the TDV user is unlikely to look like anyone else" (Sandvig 2012: 187). Who does Sandvig refer to when he says "...anyone else"? How does this lead to the creation and usage of the word "they" within ethnic communities (e.g. Native Americans and Chicanas/os and the mainstream?

3) What types of uses do you consider "useless"? What types of uses do you consider "useful"? Are some people's preferences and perspectives less valuable based on how they categorize 'uses'? These questions stem from Sandvig's quote "American legislators have long tried to separate the "useless" and "useful" and only subsidize the latter" (Sandvig 201: 186).

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