A History of NativeWeb
This is a collaborative work-in-progress documenting the history of NativeWeb, with contributions by NativeWeb board members Marc Becker, Carmel Vivier, and Peter d'Errico. Current version: January 16, 2002.
Introduction to NativeWeb
NativeWeb, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is the most widely recognized site on the internet for information about Indigenous peoples. It exists to utilize the Internet to educate the public about Indigenous cultures and issues and to promote communications between Indigenous peoples and organizations supporting their goals and efforts. With databases containing thousands of items, NativeWeb provides searchable access to materials in dozens of categories, forums for user-provided information and discussion, and a daily digest of reports about current news and events involving Indigenous peoples around the world. NativeWeb also provides selected Indigenous organizations with resources to create and maintain World-Wide Web sites of their own.
Our purpose is not to "preserve," in museum fashion, some vestige of the past, but to foster communication among people engaged in the present and looking toward a sustainable future for those yet unborn. The content of NativeWeb at the moment is predominantly about the Americas, from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. In time, this will change. As access to the Internet grows, as Indigenous peoples of other continents reach out through the Internet, NativeWeb will grow also. Already NativeWeb provides links to the Sami of Northern Europe, the Maori of New Zealand, and Aboriginal Peoples of Australia.
NativeWeb's mission statement states that:
NativeWeb is an international, nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to using telecommunications including computer technology and the Internet to disseminate information from and about indigenous nations, peoples, and organizations around the world; to foster communication between native and non-native peoples; to conduct research involving indigenous peoples' usage of technology and the Internet; and to provide resources, mentoring, and services to facilitate indigenous peoples' use of this technology.
Indigenous Peoples around the world have much in common amidst great diversity. Native spiritual practices celebrate the inter-relatedness of all Life on Earth, and native peoples historically suffer at the hands of industrialized nations and corporate entities. NativeWeb is concerned with these spiritual and political dimensions, in addition to Indigenous literature and art, legal and economic issues, land claims and new ventures in self-determination.
NativeWeb began its existence in May of 1994 as an outgrowth of the NativeNet listserv mailing lists which Gary Trujillo began in 1989 as one of the first global listservs on the Internet. The catalyst for NativeNet was a conference "From the Arctic to Amazonia: Industrial Nations' Exploitation of Indigenous Peoples' Land" held at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, attended by people from every continent but the Antarctic. The conference demonstrated how much Indigenous peoples of the world have in common and how much they needed ways to communicate globally.
Marc Becker, then a graduate student in Latin American History who had worked on HNSource, a pioneering history web site at the University of Kansas, began discussions with Gary Trujillo about using the technology of the World Wide Web to support and extend the struggles of Indigenous peoples around the globe. Guillermo Delgado, a Quechua Indian from Bolivia and a professor of Latin American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, along with Susan O'Donnell, a staff member at Cultural Survival Canada, drafted an organizational framework for this new project. Marc began to assemble materials based on this plan on his personal UNIX computer account at the University of Kansas.
In April of 1995, NativeWeb formally separated from the NativeNet project and established its own identity as an Internet website under the auspices of a small volunteer group of native and non-native computer professionals and academics. In October of 1995, Marc left for Ecuador to work on his dissertation and NativeWeb moved the site from the University of Kansas to Syracuse University where David Cole, a webmaster at Syracuse, assumed primary responsibility for administering the site. Slowly, a system of collective webmasters evolved.
In July of 1997, the site acquired the domain name nativeweb.org and moved to its own server in order to access new technologies and to handle the heavy demand from users around the world. Shane Caraveo redesigned the website based on the PHP protocol. This allowed the scripting of databases which facilitated and enhanced the administration of the site.
In February of 1999, NativeWeb formally incorporated itself as a non-profit corporation in the State of New York under the name NativeWeb, Inc. It established a formal board of directors with 10 board members (Marc Becker, Shane Caraveo, David Cole, Keely Squirrel Denning, Peter d'Errico, Alan Mandell, Pat Paul, Tara Prindle, Karen Strom, and Carmel Vivier). The group now included a software programmer; a computer network specialist who was a member of a Native American tribal council; a lawyer who was a tribal judge; an independent legislative analyst focusing on native-related issues; a law office manager and freelance writer who works with native communities in Canada; a novelist writing stories on native issues; and two university professors: one a lawyer involved with Indigenous peoples' legal issues and the other a historian focusing on Indigenous issues in Latin America. NativeWeb has always been a labor of love, rooted in a volunteer workforce.
The board drafted, discussed, revised, and approved resolutions and bylaws, and proceeded to elect Marc as president, Shane as vice-president, and David as secretary/treasurer. Because of the dispersed and international character of the website, rarely has it been possible for board members and other volunteers on the site to meet face to face. Holding meetings "online" has presented its own unique set of challenges, including debates whether such meetings would be recognized under New York corporate law.
NativeWeb has continued to expand at a dramatic rate of speed to the point where it is now recognized as the premier site on Native peoples around the world. NativeWeb has received recognition from various institutions for its contributions. In 1997, NativeWeb was chosen as one of 20 humanities education web resources on EDSITEment, a joint project of the National Endowment for Humanities, the Council of the Great City Schools, MCI Communications Corp., and the National Trust for the Humanities. NativeWeb is also a 'featured site' in the InterNIC Academic Guide, and has received other World Wide Web awards. It enjoys over 5000 visitors a day, and is widely used as a resource by teachers and students in K-12 classrooms. Other websites commonly link to NativeWeb and its resources are often cited in academic papers.
What NativeWeb does
Since its founding, NativeWeb has strived to be a place where people on the Internet could go to find information. A resource database with links to over four thousand sites that contain information for, about, or important to Indigenous cultures remains the heart and soul of the NativeWeb project. This browseable and searchable database is organized by Indigenous nations, geographic locales, and thematic content.
In addition to the resource database, NativeWeb has engaged in a variety of other projects. One of the most important is the hosting of web pages for Indigenous organizations and groups which do not have resources to do this on their own. Since NativeWeb's beginning in 1994, the South and Meso-American Indian Rights Center (SAIIC) supported the NativeWeb project and in turn NativeWeb hosted their web page as well as that of their sister organization Abya Yala Fund. SAIIC, based in Oakland, California, existed to ensure that the struggles of Latin America's Indigenous peoples for self-determination and respect are heard in the US and internationally, and to support Indigenous peoples' organizing.
Currently, NativeWeb hosts over 40 websites throughout the Americas. Although open to all Indigenous organizations, most sites are a result of personal contacts with NativeWeb board members. In particular, there are a large number of sites from Ecuador. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), a pan-Indian organization representing Indigenous nations in Ecuador, was one of the first such sites to come on line. Subsequently, many other organizations have also worked with NativeWeb to set up their own websites. For example, the Instituto Científico de Culturas Indígenas (ICCI), a scientific-technical center which brings together the thought and experiences of struggle connected to the organizational process of the different indigenous organizations, publishes its monthly bulletin "Rimai" online at NativeWeb. The Universidad Intercultural de las Nacionalidades y Pueblos Indígenas, and Indigenous university in Ecuador, also maintains its web page at NativeWeb.
NativeWeb also actively expanded the number of other resources related to Indigenous issues hosted on its server. For example, Michael Pipe developed a NativeLaw News Digest which has been expanded into a broader news service on Indigenous concerns. We have an alerts and announcements service that can broadcast urgent actions and human rights alerts. NativeWeb also hosts an events database which includes listings of powwows, conferences, workshops and other events of interest to Indigenous communities. We have also developed a Bookcenter with links to over 1,000 books related to Indigenous issues, most of which can be purchased online.
NativeWeb has a lot of unrealized potential and continues to struggle to build its resources. For example, Marc Becker has slowly been developing a website of Indigenous statements and manifestos which is designed to be an electronic archive of primary documents on Indigenous issues. This is designed to be an electronic archive of original materials - papers, historical documents, digital photographs, and materials for and about native and indigenous peoples.
There are plans in the works to use the domain name nativeweb.com to create a native arts e-commerce mall which would provide a commercial space on the web for native vendors. The development of economic services to provide direct marketing by native artists, with an art education component, will help generate self-sustaining revenue for indigenous organizations and individuals.
NativeWeb is also looking to the future with respect to educational resources. Plans are underway to look at providing archival materials for schools, and creating a resource database that will be a collecting point for useable, virtual "classroom lesson plans" for both native and non-native schools within the K-12 grades. This venture would provide NativeWeb with the ability to become a major depository for educational teaching materials and resource content.
A long-term goal that NativeWeb has always embraced is extending Internet resource assistance to indigenous organizations. Building on existing NativeWeb hosting services, this project would provide technical training and assistance for organizations to maintain their own presence on the Internet.
Another possible project is the creation of a a collaboration project with students at highschool, university or college level being given credit for their volunteer work such as checking links or assisting K-12 students with webpage design. Besides providing students with a way to showcase their talents, it would also provide NativeWeb with a whole new generation of volunteers. This could turn into a cooperative program whereby the student could get school credits for their volunteering and it would also raise the profile of NativeWeb in the educational community.
NativeWeb faces numerous challenges as it endeavors to continue and extend its services. NativeWeb is conceptualized as a global endeavor, yet most of our material continues to focus on the America. We continue to look for ways to extend our work into new areas of the world.
A much more persistent issue is the "last mile" problem of extending technological resources to some of the most isolated and under-served people on the planet. How do you provide the technological benefits of the Internet to Indigenous peoples living in areas without electricity, much less the phone lines necessary to connect to the Internet?
We also face technological problems. Our in-house software has reached and surpassed the extent of its original design, and is currently processing hundreds of thousands of page views per month from several thousand daily visitors. To handle increasing demand and to expand the array of services NativeWeb provides, our systems must be re-tooled using more advanced technologies and design.
NativeWeb has always been based on a volunteer workforce, but it has grown to the point where it is difficult to function on a solely volunteer basis. The principal organizers are providing NativeWeb with as much support as possible within the constraints of their various employments. Our present strategy to survive and grow, is to find funding through grants and donations for the various components of the site and for new ventures or projects.
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