Spotted Arrow


Indigenous Tech and Nation-Building

Go to your Nation’s website. I have a couple of questions for you.

Our Nations’ websites should reflect our cultural identity online. However, they don’t at times. There is this divide between Native peoples and technology. Although a lot of us use Facebook and other social media services, we are consumers of these services that are not made for us. We can’t express our identity or things that are culturally relevant to us in these spaces but we do try to shoehorn it in. However, even when we do have a space that is for us we don’t assert our identity there. Our languages and cultures are not first-class alongside English, they are relegated to less visible places.

What this says to me is that there is work needed to be done to help with nation building and our presence online is a part of that. But we are navigating the trauma of years past: Indian Wars, Removal, Boarding Schools, Termination, Relocation, Indian Reorganization Act, AIM, etc. Even with everything that has happened before us, we have an opportunity ahead to make a better life for those in our communities. It starts with having that pride and lifting our cultures and languages in places that reflect our identities to the world.

This is part of Indigenous nation-building. Things that should work out of the box for any Nation’s website are:

Our Nations’ websites should be locally aware. That means that when someone visits a Nation’s website from within the boundaries of that Nation, they should first be presented with the website in the Nation’s native language. Users can still decide for themselves if they would like to view the site in another language, but the default should always be in the native language first when the user resides in their Native land.

Sites should be accessible offline for those who have poor and/or intermittent internet connection. Access to services comes via access to information about said services. Site information should not require an internet connection to be viewed. This can be achieved through service workers for web clients and offline modes that many iOS and Android application frameworks provide out of the box.

For those with limited data plans, the bundle size for a website should be small and load in a matter of seconds so that our citizens aren’t paying the cost to their phone provider.

Many of our elders haven’t had the same access to technology as the younger generations. We need to keep them in mind as we build user interfaces. It should be easy to navigate our site and if it has strong accessibility standards it can be better accessed by those with impaired vision. It should be suited for our elders and those with accessibility needs first. This will only make the experience on the site better for everyone else.

Nations have government-to-government relations with the colonial powers they signed treaties with. A Nation’s website should therefore be representative of that. That means, in the US, a domain. Other domains do not reflect this status nor do they assert our presence as a governmental entity towards the outside world. This can get reflected in how people talk about their connection to their community. It’s quite common to hear someone say they are a “member” of a tribe as opposed to a citizen of a Nation. People easily tie their identity to their race, a colonial construct, as opposed to what laws, customs, and communities they uphold. Our government status is what our communities fought for and it should be known as such.

A Nation’s website is a reflection of its priorities, how they view their online identity, their own identity, and who their site serves. In some cases, it may not serve those it was intended for or themselves, but it can and it most definitely should. Technology can play a small but vital role in nation-building, for a community and its citizens and as a signal to the outside world.

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