Oct 12 2006

Technology Aids Preservation Of Native American Culture

Technology is helping some Native Americans preserve their cultures and share their history with the rest of America.

As the holiday season approaches, the lesson plans of educators will focus on our nation’s first Thanksgiving. It’s a natural time to learn about the rich culture and heritage of Native Americans. Tribes all across the country are creating online resources to detail their history and contributions to America. These resources, which help to disseminate Native American history and culture, are bringing a number of 21st century innovations to resolve complex tribal issues. Beyond serving as a teaching tool, these technologies preserve native culture by providing a permanent record that is accessible to all.

In Mashantucket, Conn., the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center hosts the largest Native American museum in the country. Home of a state-of-the-art, technology-rich museum and Web site, the center features a recreated 16th century Pequot village, encompassing 20,000-square-feet. “The village is filled with sounds—dogs barking, children laughing, people conversing, crows calling,” says Trudy Lamb Richmond, the museum’s director of public programs. “The experience is a journey through time.”

In Marysville, Wash., the Tulalip Technology Leap serves as the technology arm of the Tulalip Tribes. This group provides technology education and infrastructure development to tribal members and employees, while using the same infrastructure to preserve the Tulalip way of life through its Web site. At Rebohoth Christian School, which serves the region’s Zuni and Navajo tribes in and around Rehoboth, N.M., a thin-client network is allowing students to identify, research and illustrate local plant and animal species on the Colorado Plateau for a semester-long science project (for more on Tulalip and Rehoboth, see “Old Cultures, New Technologies,” p. 42).

These and other technologically-enhanced projects enrich the lives of all Americans. Grants from philanthropic organizations help these investments go farther. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the organization’s Community Access to Technology program for Washington State helped 30 different communities provide numerous Americans with greater access to technology information last year. The foundation also awarded connectivity grants to 25 Native American tribes in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Some 161 Native American sites now have public access to the Internet.

The result of both financial and emotional investments in educational programs is a greater understanding by schoolchildren (and the adults who teach them) of a rich culture that has made countless contributions to this country. And as we prepare to celebrate another Thanksgiving, this understanding is truly something for which we can give thanks.