October 15, 2010

The new "mukluk telegraph"

For some, Internet defines freedom

By Steve HaycoxDriving down the Alaska Highway gave me the opportunity to listen to CBC radio earlier this week. I was particularly struck by an interview of people in various villages in Nunavut, the new Inuit territory north of Quebec, such places as Iqaluit, Kimmirut, Rankin Inlet, Kugluktuk, Gjoa Haven, Resolute Bay and others I keep tabs on weekly through Northern News Service. The interviewer was doing a feature on how the Internet has changed life in these places. As in Alaska villages, perhaps the greatest impact has been the upgrade of medical and health services. But the interviewer keenly focused his attention on the personal level, and what most of the respondents wanted to talk about was freedom.

The Internet--e-mail and Facebook particularly--has liberated people in those northern villages from isolation. Virtually every person interviewed used the word "connection" and described how exhilarating it was to be able to talk to relatives--family members--in sister villages hundreds of miles away, to know who was having a baby when, and how it went, who was working for the village council and who not, who was in trouble and how bad. The Internet has become the new "mukluk telegraph," and people spoke with considerable apprehension when asked how they would feel if they lost Internet access. The same is true of Alaska villagers with whom I have spoken.
Comment:  Real Alaska Natives chat with each other via e-mail and Facebook. Stereotypical Alaska Natives ride walruses while they attack the US. The difference couldn't be more pronounced.

For more on the subject, see Creating a Native Facebook and Amazon Indian Students on the Net.

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