2.3 Indigenous peoples and ICTs

Until now, this toolkit has provided an overview of the situation of Indigenous peoples in the world and their rights to ICT capabilities. On one hand, the difficult situation Indigenous peoples face in their development efforts has been illustrated. These difficulties often result from the expropriation of their lands and resources or the lack of recognition of their languages, customs and values. On the other hand, we have seen a series of Indigenous rights being recognized, giving Indigenous peoples the ability to decide upon their own forms of development in accordance with their ancestral cultures.

ICTs are central to this contradictory situation. On one hand, the indiscriminant dissemination of ICT media, such as television and radio, have altered the values and customs of these peoples by introducing hegemonic cultures into their communities. But these media also can introduce content oriented toward Indigenous people, tangibly contributing to the conservation of their cultural heritage. One example of such programming is the Telecentre Port Saavedra, located in a Mapuche community in Chile. The telecenter uses ICTs to inform and promote natural telemedicine. Native healers can use the Internet to connect to distant communities and to practice their ancestral knowledge.

There are also Indigenous broadcasters in Australia, New Zealand and Canada that produce and transmit programming appropriate for the cultures and development needs of their Indigenous populations.

New technologies can become important allies in the economic and social development of these peoples. Experience has shown that telecommunication access centers run by schools or community associations promote local-interest content, disseminating the values and the worldviews of the local people. In this way, they become mechanisms of ethnic expression and education, decreasing technological "apartheid" and alienation.

In Peru, for example, Indigenous people have used the Maranon Community Radio station to denounce the conflicts and murders perpetrated by the state and by businesses interested in the exploitation of Amazonia. The allegations of such crimes have pierced the airwaves, traveled around the world and led to the establishment of a process of dialogue between the different parties.

This adoption of current technology is still recent and innovative. While many Indigenous people remain unaware of the existence of these tools, some have already embraced the possibilities these technologies present.

Among young people, ICTs are undoubtedly an attractive tool. In fact, young people consider them a necessity. ICTs exert a fascination that captivates younger generations almost instantly. This has been the case with such initiatives as the E-Way in Laos, where young Tibetans form part of the less than 15,000 who use the Web in Laos. This situation has facilitated employment and learning opportunities for this group.

Among older generations, however, attitudes are different. Interaction with technology often generates resistance and fear of loss of culture and tradition.

For leaders such as Margarita Neuculen, a traditional herbalist among the Mapuche people, the technological path can provide balance, because the technology itself may lead to liberation. The challenge is to blend ancestral knowledge with innovation, preserving ethnic identity and traditional ways of life in the face of the contemporary world.2

The task, then, is to find a balance that allows ICTs to function within the scope of the development objectives that the Indigenous communities themselves have identified.

Recommended Reading

2 Carvin, A., Surman, M. (Editors),  "From the Ground up; The Evolution of the Telecentre Movement", telecentre.org, IDRC, SDC (2006).