Kevin Kaiser 88480975 University of British Columbia ETEC 521 66C Marianne Justus, Ph.D. August 3, 2007
Bridging Cultures Bridging Cultures The Internet, as it is in 2007 has the capability increase cross-cultural understanding. If it is true, and the basis of all racism is ignorance, then can technology aid cross-cultural understanding between First Nations and non-native people? Introduction In a multicultural society, like Canada, cross-cultural understanding is a high priority for a safe and prosperous future. First Nations people are Canada’s first citizens, and need to be equal partners in mainstream contemporary society. With nearly six hundred bands across Canada, meeting and understanding all of the diverse cultures would be daunting. Technology is just one of the ways to allow Native and non-native people to gain insight into each others cultures. Although technology can mean anything from a canoe to a computer, technology for this paper will mean the Internet. Public perception of First Nations people and the contemporary reality of First
Nations are at a divide, and through technology this perception can be cleared. Aspects of First Nations culture can be understood in an online environment, and contemporary issues regarding First Nations can be easily understood online. With the First Nations population on the rise, there will be some changes as to how First Nations are understood by the "dominant culture." Understanding the Past Culture itself does change; this often happens through contact with other cultures. First Nations culture changed through contact with western culture. Tribes across North America were forcibly assimilated into western culture since 1492. Since then, many First Nations people have attempted to protect and revive what was lost of
Bridging Cultures their culture. The reality is that First Nations culture and western culture need to live together and understand one another. With over six hundred First Nations bands (Wikipedia, 2007) across Canada, understanding each culture is not an easy task, but
sharing information and respect for all cultures can happen through technological means. All parties involved must not only attempt to understand each other, but they must be on an equal playing field. Understanding each others past, working with technology together, breaking stereotypes and setting up a successful future for a just society will help clear understandings. In order to achieve this goal; the Internet must be more than a repository for information, it must be interactive. The history books are written by non-native people, and are largely about nonnative people. When students are introduced to First Nations culture, they focus on historical “facts.” They learn about nomadic people who hunted bison or fishermen who used nets to get their catch. This is how the youth are introduced to First Nations culture. With so few First Nations teachers, the message cannot get across from a First Nations point of view. With technology playing a larger role in the education system, public perception of First Nations culture can change. The numerous social issues surrounding First Nations people today are not fully understood by the rest of the Canadian or the North American society. First Nations people are continuing to struggle to rebuild their culture, while the rest of the population struggles with understanding First Nations culture. Since colonization, First Nations people have struggled to gain equal ground with the non-native population. “These colonizing schemes include, but are certainly not limited to: dismantling Indigenous sovereign governments, devaluing Indigenous knowledges, outlawing Indigenous
languages, marginalizing Indigenous cultural practices, demonizing Indigenous religious and spiritual practices, destroying Indigenous ecosystems and environments, claiming Indigenous lands and natural resources, undermining sustainable Indigenous economies, demoralizing Indigenous youth attending Eurocentric schools, and criminalizing traditional Indigenous activities as well as behaviors that directly result from colonial structures of oppression. Despite these myriad efforts, the colonizers did not succeed in truly subduing the Indigenous societies of the North American continent.” (Jenkins, 2007, p. 8). All aspect of First Nations history needs academic exploration to help clear the many misunderstandings. Changing the way people think about First Nations people is needed, and it is needed at all levels of education. First Nations people must also change the way they interact with the western culture. Technology can help alleviate these issues. Online Culture FN people need to understand how to engage in western culture in order for nonnative people to fully understand First Nations culture. There is a need for balances in the way people interact online in order to achieve this understanding. One culture can dominate a discussion in an online course, and their point of view is taken as the dominant point of view. If technology is going to bring cultures together, then all cultures need to have a say in how technology is used to benefit this understanding. Reeder, Macfadyen, Roche & Chase (2004) examined cyberculture values and interaction patterns of different cultural groups in an online course at UBC. They found that First Nations people were not only represented with fewer participants, but they did not interact as often as the other groups. Further, First Nations people were less likely to start discussions with peers, and never contacted the instructor for any reason.
Interaction is needed for understanding. Technology, particularly the Internet, has the potential for interaction, but Reeder et al found that the Internet is created by Anglo Saxons and is better suited to Anglo Saxons. If First Nations people are not comfortable using this type of technology, they will not interact as much as other cultural groups. Reeder et al state, “In our study group, non-aboriginal Canadians (individuals born and educated in Canada, within the predominantly English-speaking Euro-Canadian culture) posted a significantly higher number of messages than, for example, aboriginal Canadian participants.” (Reeder et al. 2004. p. 93). The balance of learning online is weighed heavily on the non-native population. One-sided conversations, even online, blur the reality and can lead to further misunderstandings. Reeder et al conclude that there are missing elements, at least in the online study that would enable First Nations to engage with other cultures in an online environment. “Missing elements in electronically mediated communication include: context perception, parallel visual channels, direct eye contact, gestural information, side talk, dynamic realtime repair mechanisms, avoidance mechanisms, and in general the flexibility we normally expect to obtain or emerge between conversational partners.” (Reeder et al. 2004. p. 100). In an online educational world, First Nations learners are not breaking any stereotypes, and are not engaging as much as other cultures. This small study suggests that First Nations people are not as comfortable online, and they are not enabling crosscultural understanding in an online course environment. One of the main issues regarding cross-cultural understanding is the development of culture online. First Nations content, that is accessible to everyone online, needs to be developed by First Nations people and open to the public. There are programs available
Bridging Cultures to the public, but how they can be accessed and used is unknown to many of the general public.
One project that involved both Euro-Canadian and First Nations understanding in the scientific world is Glen S. Aikenhead’s “Toward a First Nations Cross-Cultural Science and Technology Curriculum.” Aikenhead states, “As a Euro-Canadian, my nonAboriginal background disqualifies me from formulating education policies for First Nations (Native American) students.” (Aikenhead. 1996. p. 218). Instead Aikenhead directed his project from his point of view, and he had First Nations students understand western science in terms that they could understand. This meant that he had to understand their culture as well. Aikenhead entered this project knowing that he was sharing his knowledge instead of forcing his knowledge on the First Nations students. This is a large step toward cross-cultural understanding. Understanding the differences and similarities is the key to understanding each other. Aikenhead states, “Western science was characterized as being essentially mechanistic, materialistic, etc. By comparison, Aboriginal knowledge of nature tends to be thematic, survival-oriented, holistic, empirical, rational, contextualized, specific, communal, ideological, spiritual, inclusive, cooperative, coexistent, personal, and peaceful.” (Aikenhead. 1996. p. 221). Understanding these two points goes a long way toward understanding different cultures and what each culture can offer society. Although the points listed are generalizing First Nations ways of knowing, they offer insight into how to connect with First Nations youth. Technology can aid First Nations understanding of the greater world, and empower youth to understand the sub-culture of science. It can also aid First Nations
Bridging Cultures youth to utilize the Internet to allow others to understand their culture. Specifically, the unknown becomes the known, and misconceptions can become understandings. Aikenhead states, “Autonomous acculturation and “anthropological” instruction encourage students to learn Western science and technology without losing their Aboriginal culture and identity.” (Aikenhead. 1996. p. 232). He concludes by stating, “The prophecy states that on the initiative of the white people, the four peoples of the earth will one day combine their knowledge into an integrated whole. Before the white people can initiate a coming together, however, they need to recognize the border crossings of First Nations students and be open themselves to experience their own hazardous border crossings into a First Nations culture.” (Aikenhead. 1996. p. 232). According to Aikenhead, before these border crossing happen, both cultures need to understand their own culture fully. Technology There is a wide array of technology available to allow for cross-cultural understanding. One of the more “human” aspects of technology is video conferencing. This can put a face to the person who may live half way around the world. A project in Prairie View, Texas, Cultural Connection, used video conferencing as one of the technologies to help bridge cultures together. Most of Trina Davis’s, the creator of Culture Connection, students are Hispanic, and these students were in contact with students from various cultural backgrounds. Her curriculum was not very different than
other middle schools, but her delivery was different. It allowed cultures to learn from one another online. In a study on Cultural Connections, Cifuentes and Murphy found that “Virtual
Bridging Cultures communities can provide environments for students to transform into more tolerant and respectful citizens when they include opportunities to develop relationships with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.” (Cifuentes, Murphy. 2000. p. 72). The author’s study on this program involved two teachers that conducted nine distance-learning units over the course of a year. They wanted to understand the impact of technology and cultural understanding. One of Cifuentes et al findings centered on the advantage of multimedia over
traditional methods and the ability to place pictures and beliefs online to share with other cultures. The results of this project were found to be “(a) growth, (b) empowerment, (c) comfort with technology, and (d) mentoring.” (Cifuentes et al. 2000. p. 76). All four points are needed in order to truly share culture with others online. This program allowed students to express themselves in ways previously undiscovered, and express themselves with cultures previously unconnected. There is a wide array of technological tools available for people to use to connect cultural understandings. Schools are one of the best and earliest avenues to break stereotypes and come to an understanding. Wikis, blogs, video conferencing, etc. are widely available, but need to be utilized in schools to bring cultures closer together. When Wikis work, they have the power to bring cultures closer together. The people who use Wikis have similar interests, and they allow people to change what has been written while adding their point of view. While information is at the heart of a Wiki, thoughts and ideas are written collaboratively. Ideally, rules and conventions of the “Wiki culture” are centered in an active voice focusing on the idea rather than the person. The University of British Columbia has online courses in the Masters of
Educational Technology. One course, ETEC 521 – Indignity, Technology, and Education, explores First Nations culture online. One of the learning objectives states, “learn to recognize stereotypes of Indigenous people and advance a critical understanding of how decolonization is being enacted by self- determining Indigenous communities.” (ETEC 521. 2007). While this is only one of the courses stated goals, it is an important one. UBC is on traditional Musqueam land, and it is attempting to help scholars interested in First Nations culture break stereotypes in an online environment. Judging from one of the comments made by a student in ETEC 521, there is a cross-cultural understanding happening in this course. This student states, “What you mentioned here was the first thing I learned in this course, and it really changed my way of thinking. I had no idea that "Indians" were a white concept and that there were many different groups in their eyes. I began to question other things I had been taught growing up. This certainly has been an eye-opening course.” (Harper. online discussion. 2007). Breaking Stereotypes In order for cultures to connect and break stereotypes, there must be an avenue of understanding. One of these avenues is through simply searching through the Internet. Unfortunately, there are many sites online that cannot and should not be trusted to deliver truthful information. NativeWiki (2007) is a site powered by MediaWiki of Wikipedia fame, and it is growing with a lot of useful information for researchers. This site uses technology to get a message to the public on who First Nations people are in the present, and how they lived in the past. There are pictures and documents by Native scholars. Indirectly, this site is crossing cultures because there are opportunities for many people to add to the information on this site. At worst, the site is connecting First Nations people
Bridging Cultures across North America with technology. Structuring the divide First Nations students have to “walk in two worlds.” A common saying with First
Nations educators is that First nations youth “need to walk with a drum in one hand and a computer in the other.” Grounding cultural understanding among First Nations youth and teaching the youth to use technology to survive in the western world is paramount for First Nations youth to share their culture with the rest of the world. Sorkness and Gibson state, “Native American students, who are first grounded in their American Indian culture, exhibit fewer at-risk behaviors such as academic difficulty and social, emotional, and psychological problems.” (Sorkness. 2006. p. 3) With this information at hand, it is vital that First Nations youth take part in their own cultural society and western society at the same time. One of the longest standing success stories regarding First Nations education and technology is the forty-year history of the Native Education Centre (NEC). It is the largest private First Nations College in British Columbia offering vocational and academic learning to First Nations adult learners. Two of their seven goals for the centre are, “To develop programs, facilities and methodologies that provide access to skills, knowledge and technology appropriate to the future well-being of Aboriginal peoples in cooperation with agencies of government and non-governmental organizations; To improve understanding between Aboriginal groups, to inform the general public of Aboriginal issues, and to inform the Aboriginal communities of the purpose of education and the programs and services of the Society.” (NEC. 2007). Two of their goals can be achieved through the use of technology. The NEC is training First Nations people to
Bridging Cultures utilize technology to not only participate in western culture, but to strengthen First Nations culture. “American Indians were being left behind in the changeover to the information
age that the world had begun moving into for the new millennium. They also found that when TCUs (including SKC) offered courses in SMET programs students enrolled in and filled those classes to capacity. It was clear that the TCUs were the best venue for reservation-based students to begin a career in one of the SMET disciplines.” (Stein, Jetty. 2002. p. 22). Understanding historical issue First Nations students faced can help understand why there is reluctance for First Nations students to take part in online courses. Further, the issue regarding connection speed on many remote reserves can hinder the enrolment numbers. The First Nations Technology Council (FNTC) wrote a guide for First Nations communities to connect to the Internet. The FNTC state, In the 21st century, the world is going to experience remarkable change and realize great benefit as nations and communities learn how to take fullest advantage from living in the Information Age and using technology to improve the quality of life for all members of the community. The global knowledge economy will continue to grow. New technologies will continue to be developed. These changes will make it easier for individuals and communities to do more, do it faster, and do it more cost-effectively. Even the most remote First Nations communities will be able to use technology to access better health care, to provide a wider variety of quality educational materials to learners of all ages in the community, to access global markets for community-based businesses, easily stay
Bridging Cultures in touch with members who have left the community, forge more
relationships with their government and industry partners, and improve data gathering and accountability. (FNTC, 2006. p. 1) Organizations like the FNTC understand the economic importance of connecting all First Nations communities. They also understand the need for community members to thrive in the western world. For this to happen, First Nations communities need to engage with the non-native population in an online environment. Technology has to play a part in recognizing that stereotypes of First Nations people and romanticized views of First Nations people as nomadic people need to be broken. Conclusion While it is true that much of First Nations culture was lost because of contact with European settlers, First Nations youth are now walking in two worlds. One world is grounding them in what their extended family would like them to understand. The other world is forcing them to understand themselves in a more mainstream society. The nonnative population continues to struggle making sense of First Nations history from a First Nations perspective, and most of the non-native population does not comprehend contemporary issues regarding social and legal matters. In order for cross-cultural understanding to happen, all cultures involved must be ready to share what they know about themselves and accept different ways of knowing from other people. Technology is not a magic bullet that will allow a non-discriminatory society to suddenly flourish from the Internet. Rather, technology is a new tool to utilize to allow the youth to gain cultural awareness. Stereotypical viewpoints of First Nations people will continue as long as society
allows it to flourish in mainstream media. The unknown will always be the unknown. The Internet, specifically wikis, blogs and informative sites, are fantastic tools to break stereotypes for those that would like to see them come to an end. Pride in ones culture is the key to cross-cultural understanding. First Nations youth that read history books and realize that they are being represented in a negative light tend to shy away from education. Fortunately, the youth are the people driving the Internets popularity. They frequent sites such as MySpace and Facebook. The youth are the ones that will re-write the history books, and they will be using technology to accomplish this goal. Ignorance is only an excuse for racial divide, but in the information age the ignorant cannot survive.
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