"Indian Reservation Document 1881", Michael Horse (Yaqui, Mescalero, Apache, Zuni)


The Need

Technology infrastructure in Indian Country has been extensively studied. The most comprehensive report, to date, was done by the College of Engineering, NewMexico State University (NMSU). This report is titled “Assessment of Technology Infrastructure in Native Communities”. The report was prepared under ward # 99-07-13799 from the Economic Development Administration, (EDA) U.S. Department of Commerce. It is appropriate that the Summary of this report be included as documented support of the Need. The Summary begins at Scope of Study and ends with Recommendations.

Scope of Study

This project defines the concept of "technology infrastructure" very broadly to include all forms of infrastructure that routinely affect economic development. While many people automatically associate the term with telecommunications, it is clear that telecommunications infrastructure alone cannot improve the economic conditions in Native communities without a sound network of roads, utilities, and similar infrastructure. Likewise, technology infrastructure development cannot proceed unless Native communities have a certain minimal capacity in the form of a skilled labor force, capability to undertake technology and strategic planning and resources to finance infrastructure investment.

The Current State of Technology Infrastructure in Native Communities

By just about any measure used, individuals living in Native communities or villages typically have less income, receive less education, and suffer from higher unemployment and poverty rates than individuals in non-Native communities. Native communities also lag far behind non-Native communities in "basic" infrastructure such as roads, utilities, and housing. The gap between Native and non-Native communities is even greater in "advanced" technology infrastructure such as Internet access, cellular telephone service, and cable TV. Many Native communities have made important gains in some types of basic technology infrastructure. However, these gains are more than offset by the rapid growth in the importance of, and demand for, advanced technology infrastructure. For example, results from the survey associated with this project show:

  • Only 39% of rural households in Native communities have telephones compared to 94% for non-Native rural communities
  • Approximately 26% of tribes report that they do not have 911 services.
  • 44% of tribes have no local radio stations, and for those tribes with radio stations, these stations are rarely tribally owned.
  • In rural areas, (population areas with less than 2,500 individuals), 12% of Native households lack electricity and 23% lack gas.
  • Of rural Native households, only 22% have cable television,9% have personal computers, and of those, only 8% have Internet access.
  • 61% of tribes report not having a single manufacturing facility in their community.
  • Only 17% of the responding tribes have a technology infrastructure plan, 44% have an economic development plan and 35% have a strategic plan in place.
  • Nearly 90% of Native schools and libraries have both computers and Internet access.

Tribes overwhelmingly identified their top investment priorities as housing, roads, waste water technology and medical facilities while expressing the opinion that basic levels of technology infrastructure must be in place to lay the foundation for more advanced levels.

Today, many Native communities find themselves in a vicious circle. The weak economic base of these communities makes it difficult to support infrastructure investment. And in turn, the poor state of infrastructure undermines their ability to undertake and attract successful economic development initiatives.

Barriers to Development of Technology Infrastructure in Native Communities

Native, government and private sector participants in our research identified many barriers that interfere with tribal efforts to develop and maintain technology infrastructure in Native communities. The most important of these include:

  • The generally weak economic base of these Native communities that prevents them from investing in either physical infrastructure or worker training necessary to support technology infrastructure;
  • Geographical remoteness that raises the cost of providing technology infrastructure;
  • Distrust on the part of some Native Americans of specific new technologies and of federal assistance;
  • Lack of an integrated, interagency Native American investment strategy;
  • Federal policy that fails to reflect the severity of the technology gaps faced by Native Americans,
  • Insufficient information dissemination regarding federal programs available to the tribes; and
  • Insufficient planning in Native communities. In general, while there are many programs already in place intended to improve the current state of technology infrastructure in Native communities, these programs could be better coordinated into an overall Native American investment strategy.
Recommendations for Closing the Technology Infrastructure Gap between Native and non-Native Communities:

Based on our research and extensive discussion with project contributors, we recommend that the federal government provide assistance and encourage private investment for developing Native technology infrastructure. This can be accomplished by:

  • Developing a long-term, consistent federal investment strategy for Native technology infrastructure that also encourages the development of public and private partnerships. The federal government should continue to serve as a catalyst to spur private investment such as the Administration's New Markets Initiative. This strategy should identify specific investments needed, assign responsibility for those investments to specific agencies and partners, and estimate budgetary needs and timelines to complete the necessary investments
  • Increasing funding, developing incentive programs, and facilitating strategic partnerships for development of Native technology infrastructure. The most badly needed investments are for physical infrastructure, planning assistance, and workforce development; (Italics added)
  • Improving the efficiency with which existing Native infrastructure programs are delivered. As part of this recommendation, we suggest a series of interagency working groups. The charge of these groups would be to: target specific types of infrastructure initiatives; identify program strengths, weaknesses and gaps, and; maximize synergy between different agency programs funding similar Native infrastructure areas and
  • Recognizing the sovereignty of tribes to plan, develop, and manage their own technology infrastructure. Most important, the federal government should give tribes greater authority to grant utility right of ways and to purchase land needed for effective technology infrastructure development.

Consistent with these broad, cross-cutting policy suggestions, we recommend that the federal government support improvements in specific infrastructure areas by:

  • Assisting Native communities to upgrade their basic utilities providing funding, establishing programs and involving private sector participants in technology transfer to tribes, as well as simplifying federal review of their development efforts;
  • Assisting Native communities to upgrade their educational facilities and programs for workforce development and managerial training. Most notably, greater support is needed for distance education programs and computer facilities in Native schools and the networks needed to connect them to the rest of the world;
  • Increasing funding for, and coordination of, federal programs to help Native communities install and maintain telecommunications infrastructure;
  • Setting standards, facilitating partnerships and creating programs needed to encourage the development of telemedicine programs; and highlighting successful private initiatives in, Native American economic development activities.
  • Increasing program and technical support for, and highlighting successful private initiatives in, Native American economic development activities.