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From owner-imap@chumbly.math.missouri.edu Wed Mar 13 07:15:09 2002
Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2002 13:45:40 -0600 (CST)
From: Carol <radred@ix.netcom.com>
Subject: A Nation Online, But Where Are the Indians?
Article: 135018
To: undisclosed-recipients:;


A Nation Online, But Where Are the Indians?

By Kade Twist, 12 March 2002

The primary purpose of these surveys is to measure the U.S. economy, the Census official states. It's not intended to be used as a tool for extracting data for a statistically insignificant racial group.

Introduction: New NTIA Report Excludes American Indians

American Indian leaders and federal policymakers awaiting the latest data for Internet use among Native American households will have to continue waiting. On February 5, the National Telecommunications and Information administration (NTIA) released A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet (www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/dn/index.html ), its first study of American Internet use to be released under the Bush administration. Like its Falling Through the Net predecessors, A Nation Online is essential reading for observers of America's digital divide and serves as a primary reference point for federal decision makers attempting to expand digital opportunity to underserved communities. Unfortunately, A Nation Online excludes data relating to American Indians, and in doing so, fails to provide a current measurement of the progress of information technology deployment efforts in America's most underserved geographic regions -- Indian Country.

What's At Stake?

Carol Lujan, member of the Navajo Nation and director of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University, contends that Indians shouldn't be surprised by their absence from the NTIA report. She also admits to a fair amount of frustration. It's ironic how Indians are excluded from reports that record and analyze household access to technologies capable of providing unprece- dented educational and economic opportunities, she says. While at the same time, Indians are included in reports that address poverty and disease and social deviance.

Many American Indian leaders like Carol Lujan are concerned that critical issues relating to Indian Country's digital divide are being excluded from the radar screens of federal decision makers. By leaving out Indian Nations, the Bush administration is effectively removing Indians from the public discourse relating to the digital divide, placing them at a further disadvantage in the emerging economy. Furthermore, the exclusion of Indians leaves federal decision makers without evidence of a problem or a solution -- it's simply an act of avoidance.

Becky Johnston, the government affairs consultant heading up the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Digital Divide Task Force, contends that there is a lot at stake within the subtext of avoidance. NCAI is concerned that the administration is now using this study to justify its proposed cuts to the federal Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) and to the Community Technology Centers Program (CTC), both of which have supported valuable technology initiatives in Indian Country.

Johnston points out that the exclusion of Indians also perpetuates the vacuum of government-sanctioned data needed to show whether the technology gap in Indian Country is closing, and how much it is closing. We have nothing to measure the progress, if any, made since the first Falling Through the Net study, she explains. For NCAI, we will be focusing on educating policymakers about the technology gap that still exists in much of Indian Country and will be fighting to restore the proposed cuts to programs like TOP.

Being excluded from public discourse has other consequences as well. Victor Rocha, member of the Pechanga Nation and founder of Pechanga Net (http://www.pechanga.net/), points out that the successes of Indian Country have also gone unnoticed -- and there are many lessons that can be learned at the federal level from current information technology deployment efforts. What is most frustrating to me is that our effort and potential is being ignored, he says. There is a lot of persistent, hard work that has gone unmeasured and unacknowledged. It's more than tribes wanting people at the federal level to understand our digital divide. We also want them to understand how we're making progress.

Why Have American Indians Been Excluded?

In spite of what is at stake, the exclusion of American Indians from the NTIA report isn't necessarily dependent upon the political persuasion of a particular administration. For instance, in 2000, the same year that Bill Clinton attempted to ride a wave of positive press into the history books for being the first U.S. President to visit two reservations (Pine Ridge and Navajo), Indians were excluded from the Falling through the Net report.

In addition to the NTIA reports, American Indians are absent from other federal reports. The Census Bureau's current population surveys, which are used in addition to a supplementary survey for the NTIA reports, are not designed to provide accurate data for small racial minority groups. According to a senior staff member at the Census Bureau wishing to remain anonymous, the reason for this comes down to dollars. The primary purpose of these surveys is to measure the U.S. economy, the Census official states. It's not intended to be used as a tool for extracting data for a statistically insignificant racial group.

With a national sample size of only 50,000, the resulting sample of American Indians living on reservations becomes too small to accurately represent all of Indian Country. Collecting data adequate enough to accurately represent Indian Country would require the design of an additional supplemental survey. . .which would be very costly, the Census staffer added.

Conclusion: We Have to be Appropriately Aggressive

Clearly the absence of American Indians from the NTIA reports and the limitations of the Census Bureau's current population surveys mean that American Indians are not adequately counted and are not sufficiently included in public discourse relating to telecommunications and information technologies issues. It is clear that this problem, which is structural in nature and political in appearance, places Indian Country at a distinct disadvantage in the still-emerging digital economy. But it is also clear that Indian Nations must stand up and demand to be appropriately counted.

The elder American Indian veterans of Washington politics like Chickasaw Nation Ambassador Charles Blackwell might have the most constructive advice for addressing the exclusion of Indian Country. It's time to stop pointing fingers, he says. Ambassador Blackwell believes that the Bush administration is willing to listen and be trained, as evidenced by the appointment of Neal McCaleb, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs. But Ambassador Blackwell does not assume that this administration has a high level of understanding.

We have to educate. We have to be proactive. We have to be appropriately aggressive, challenges Blackwell. But most importantly, we have to be willing and able to open the door to Indian Country for this administration.