Indians training with computers

Craven, Jim jcraven at
Mon Dec 27 16:30:19 MST 1999

At a time when computer techologies and skilled computer users, at-distance
education programs and computer capabilities for at-distance business
ventures are desperately needed on the Reservations and amond urban Indians,
the possibilities for successfully acquiring, developing and using the same
are less and less. Louis knows this better than most.

About two years ago, Louis was all set (had his ticket) to come to the
"Blackfeet" Reservation at Browning to donate his considerable computer
skills. At the last moment the trip had to be cancelled. Why? Because the
corrupt scum who run things and keep things backward, the same ones who have
squandered resources such as the $10,000 per year for T-1 lines that are yet
to be put in, do not want "outsiders" coming in to expose the corruption and
waste. What the "outsiders" can do and bring in beg the questions: What have
you corrupt "insider" scum, "Indians" and BIA, with big salaries and big
offices, been doing?; and, what exactly are you really capable of building
or indeed doing other than running your mouths and going to expensive
conferences all over the world?

Now, many businesses, seeing some PR opportunities, are approaching Indian
Country with all sorts of proposals to develop computer hardware, software
and skills in Indian Country. Many mean well but they do not understand the
historical and institutional conditions and constraints that limit or even
sabotage well-meaning attempts to develop computer capabilities in Indian
Country. I was approached by a Phoenix firm who wanted to donate computers
for Indian children, but they were very correctly suspicious of the
"powers-that-be" in the Tribal Council; they smelled that their donations
might go down many rat holes of corruption, and this is indeed a real danger
as BIA-sanctioned/run corrruption is rampant in Indian Country.

All who desire to participate and donate money and skills in Indian Country,
I urge you to be wary of many of the "official" powers-that-be and certainly
do not intially approach BIA. I urge you to contact local AIM activists or
Confederacy activists such as in the Blackfoot Confederacy in Pikanii
Country, or known non-corrupt and honest activists (those who are honest and
uncorruptible are known with a little checking)in the local area in which
you are interested. But the bottom line is that any help must really go to
those intended for the purposes intended and with no strings or outsider
control attached; and doing some checking on who is who and what is what in
Indian country is absolutely necessary.

Jim Craven

James Craven
Clark College, 1800 E. McLoughlin Blvd.
Vancouver, WA. 98663
(360) 992-2283; Fax: (360) 992-2863
blkfoot5 at
*My Employer Has No Association With My Private/Protected

-----Original Message-----
From: Louis Proyect [mailto:lnp3 at]
Sent: Monday, December 27, 1999 2:29 PM
To: blackfootnation at; jcraven at
Subject: Indians training with computers

Computerworld, "The Neglected Workforce"

Despite a 4% U.S. unemployment rate, most Native Americans can't get work.
Meanwhile, IT managers increasingly hire more foreign workers under H-1B
visas. New initiatives hope to change this picture by bringing technology
and training to the reservations.

By Bronwyn Fryer

December 20, 1999   Rae Peppers has her hands very full. As director of the
Tribal Business Information Technology Center at the Dull Knife Memorial
Tribal College on the Cheyenne reservation near Billings, Mont., she is
single-handedly building a 100-client Windows NT network. She's also
installing a T1 line and setting up a 7,000-record tribal enrollment
database. Unemployed, she isn't.

By contrast, too many of the estimated 2.4 million American Indians living
on or near reservations have no work at all - a shameful situation given
that the overall U.S. unemployment rate remains at a historic low of 4%.

In technology-related fields, IT managers are so desperate for workers that
Congress this year passed a special bill providing special H-1B visas to
foreign workers with IT skills. But despite the robust economy, many Native
American tribes suffer unemployment rates of a staggering 50%, some even

This dire scenario has spurred native American leaders, academics and
philanthropic organizations to focus on two-year tribal colleges like Dull
Knife, which they believe can make a huge difference in reservation
economies. Under a recent grant from the National Science Foundation,
tribal colleges are being outfitted with advanced IT that will allow
members to take distance-learning classes.

Meanwhile, the colleges' computer science courses are encouraging young
people to become interested in technology. "We're trying to jump a
generation of technology to train a generation of young American Indian
people in the field," says Tom Davis, president of Lac Courte Orielles
Ojibwa Community College in Hayward, Wis., and spokesman for the American
Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC).

Davis says he hopes the new initiatives will "provide a steady stream of
highly skilled employees that fill the need for workers while closing the
digital divide between technology's haves and have-nots."

Peoples of the (remote) land

Tribe members and others who work closely with them cite a number of
reasons why Native Americans haven't yet benefited from the explosion of
the information economy. Primary among these is geography: Many
reservations are in remote areas far from major urban areas.

"My mother is from Juneau," says Alaskan Tlingit tribe member Mark Trebian,
who today works as an asynchronous network designer at Lac Courte Oreilles
tribal college. "There's no real infrastructure up there. Communication is
all phone-based, and it's spotty at that."

James Laducer, a Chippawa tribe member who runs one of the very few
privately owned American Indian companies in the U.S., blames the
200-year-old tribal system of government that "fosters dependency and
limits free enterprise."

An estimated 38% of the highly skilled employees at Laducer and Associates,
an IT services firm near Bismark, S.D., are Native American. Laducer says
all his employees have an extremely high work ethic but that the
reservation system from which they come discourages enterprise. "It's no
different than coming from a socialist country like Cuba," he says with
some bitterness.

 The protective, insular culture of reservation life has also discouraged
tribe members from investigating technology. "A lot of our people don't
want to leave home, and they're frightened of technology," says Rae Pepper.

Indeed, technology is anathema to a people whose traditions and culture
depend on physical contact with the earth and other people, observes Victor
Chavez, who heads up Sandia National Laboratories' small-business
empowerment programs from his office in Albuquerque, N.M. Chavez is working
with local Navajo and Laguna Pueblo tribes to bring technology onto the

"When the key to the culture is its roots in Mother Earth, the virtual
world - using e-mail to talk to someone in Japan or selling a handwoven
blanket on the Internet - is a difficult concept to grasp," Chavez says.

A far larger problem is public stereotyping and the media's portrayal of
Native Americans as shiftless alcoholics, argues Luebomir Bic, a professor
of information and computer science at the University of California,
Irvine, who heads up the Summer Institute in Computer Science (SICS) for
students from tribal colleges. "The messages the media sends are mostly
negative," says Bic. "When I first visited reservations, I was pleasantly
surprised to find well-run colleges and motivated students and teachers who
knew what they were doing."

But corporate recruiters generally overlook these colleges as a possible
source for new blood. Most companies do recruiting at the same handpicked
group of four-year colleges and universities year after year. But according
to UCI's SICS Web site, less than 0.5% of Native Americans enroll in
four-year colleges, and 50% of those students drop out within the first

Thus, because IT hiring managers are bent on finding people with the proper
skills and degrees, Native Americans IT workers are still a rare find. "I
was recruited into Xerox from a college where they traditionally recruited
because I happened to have the skills they needed," says Kevin Hill, Y2K
program manager at Xerox Corp. and a member of the Cherokee nation.

Opportunity ahead

Despite these daunting issues, young people with access to computers and an
interest in technology can enjoy stunning success. Example: 25-year-old
Darrell Begay, who grew up on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico and spent
his youth herding cattle. Begay had never touched a computer until he went
to a tribal college. "That's when I took my first computer class, and I've
never looked back since," he says.

Subsequently, Begay was able to come up with the $2,700 he needed to enroll
in the SICS program. Today, he is among the 50% of program participants to
pursue a degree in computer science. A senior and a C++ wizard, he's
working at a start-up called NexTake Corp. in Newport Beach, Calif. "My
family is ecstatic that I'm a productive member of society and that I'm a
model for my nephews and nieces," he says. "I only wish I'd learned about
computers at their age."

American Indians who haven't grown up on reservations say they have less
difficulty in getting an education and acclimating to the broader business
culture of the U.S. Dan Wall, a Patowatomi tribe member who works as a
software process improvement manager at Xerox, grew up in New York state.
He has visited the tribe's reservation in Oklahoma only once. This
distancing, he says, has played a part in his attitude. "I've always felt
that the opportunity is there for anyone with the education and the skills."

Mark Hunter, a 26-year-old Chocktaw working as an e-business specialist in
the IT organization at IBM in Dallas, grew up in San Antonio. A keen
interest in engineering and good grades in school allowed him to graduate
from Dartmouth College, where Hunter belonged to a small group of Native
Americans students.

Today, Hunter is helping IBM "expand the pond for qualified Native
Americans with the right skills," he says. To this end, IBM sponsors high
school students with internships, scholarships and tutoring, and supports
programs like SICS.

Today, educational and philanthropic organizations are looking harder at
reservations and just starting to make inroads. In addition to SICS and
AIHEC, others are working on bringing technology and training to a
population that has been largely overlooked.

The key to economic recovery and self-sufficiency, they say, is the
Internet. By bringing the Net to tribal colleges and, if possible, to homes
on the reservation, Native Americans who want to stay there will gain an
economic and educational tool they've never had before.

Microsoft Corp. and The Gates Foundation, for example, are focusing on
Native Americans for basically the same reason, says Chris Jones, who
oversees Microsoft's educational philanthropy efforts. Recently, Microsoft
donated $75,000 to three tribal colleges -- Salish Kootenai College in
Montana, Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas, and Northwest Indian
College in Washington - to help them build infrastructure and provide
Windows NT training for their IT staff.

"As people gain more skills, they can start to engage in even more
lucrative jobs: webmasters, network administrators, computer technicians,
database designers, telecommunications specialists, and so on," says Jones.
"Many of these jobs are geographically independent, a real advantage for
Indian people."

Jones adds that once they have these skills, Native Americans who choose to
move off the reservation "are pretty valuable no matter where they choose
to settle."

"On the scale of access to technology and the benefits technology brings to
people, American Indians are off the bottom end of the chart," says Jones.
"They are by far the most disadvantaged group in our country. And yet
technology offers a somewhat unique opportunity for them to make huge

Taken together, these efforts to bring distance learning to reservations
and train young Native Americans for jobs in IT will pay off enormously. In
fact, it's difficult to imagine a better investment than building a
technology infrastructure.

"It all comes down to resources," says Begay. "Every time I go back to the
reservation, I try to do something to help this once proud nation. We're a
resilient people. The potential is there."

"Right now, people who are working to bring technology to the reservation
are the trailblazers," adds Hunter. "We're realizing we can work and give
back to the reservation, too."

Did You Know...?

--There are approximately 2.4 million American Indians in the U.S. (almost
1% of the U.S. population) (Census Bureau, June 1999). There are 556
federally recognized tribes (December 1998 BIA list).

--There are 314 reservations -- the smallest is the Likely Rancheria in
California with under 2 acres, and the largest is Navajo with about 16
million acres in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. There are also tribes
without land bases, such as the Ponca of Nebraska and the Lytton Rancheria
in California.  22% of the American Indian population lives on reservations
and trust lands.

--The smallest tribe, the Augustine Band of Mission Indians in California,
has a population of one. The largest tribe, Cherokee, has a population of
approximately 308,000.

--39% of the American Indian population is under the age of 20 (29% for
total U.S. population).

--8% of the American Indian population is over 60 years old (17% for total
U.S. population).

--American Indians tend to have larger families than the national average.
About 80% of American Indians live in extended-family households.

--34% of American Indians over age 25 never graduated from high school.

--9% of American Indians have a bachelor's degree or higher (3% have
graduate or professional degrees).

--One-third of American Indian households lives below the poverty level
(Census Bureau, 1995).

--In 1996, 67% of the tribes had no gaming operations. Of the tribes that
did have gaming, 10 of them earned more than 50% of the gaming income
(General Accounting Office, A Profile of the Indian Gaming Industry, May

--Of the American Indian households located on reservations :

1. 20% lack complete plumbing facilities (hot and cold piped  water, a
flush toilet, and a bathtub or shower).

2. 11% lack complete plumbing and are crowded (more than 1 person per room).

3. About 1 in 5 dispose of sewage by means other than public sewer, septic
tank or cesspool (for example, outhouse or chemical toilet).

4. 18% don't have complete kitchens (piped water, a range or cookstove, and

5. 1 in every 3 homes are heated by wood.

--Only 39% of rural households in Native Indian communities have telephones
compared with 94% for non-Native rural communities (EDA Assessment of
Technology Infrastructure in Native Communities, June 1999).

--Of rural Native households, only 22% have cable television and 9% have
PCs. Of those, only 8% have Internet access (EDA 1999).

--In rural areas, 12% of Native households lack electricity and 23% lack
gas. (EDA 1999). Source: Based on the 1990 U.S. Census. The data for
American Indians (American Indian, Eskimo and Aleut) are based on
self-identification of race; therefore, the data doesn't represent enrolled
tribal members.

Fryer is a freelance writer in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Photo by Alan Levenson

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