by Joe Sullivan

Using IT to Link Indigenous Peoples

Apr 01, 20022 mins

An ancient Maya prophecy says a day will come when Earth will be covered by a giant spiderweb and a group of 13 will bring all the people together.

Mark Lewis, a member of the Pajaspuypayem tribe, learned about the prophecy only after his 13-member committee set out to develop the No Boundaries project. Through the project, the committee aims to use information technology to link indigenous peoples all over the world. The committee, which is made up of American Indians representing 10 tribes from Mexico, the United States and Canada, was formed in March 1999. In November 1999, the group began working on a Web portal, which offers a communication platform to schools and culture preservation committees, as well as a means for indigenous peoples to sell goods and services. Members pay a monthly access fee.

The next step was to create a mobile indigenous network through WAP technology to cater to a more widespread audience. Lewis says there are cell phone and PDA users in unexpected places. For example, the Khoisan of South Africa already use CyberTracker, which employs GPS technology to locate animals for tour companies. Software engineers from Israel, Taiwan and Malaysia built the WAP interface for the No Boundaries project, which was ready for rollout in early October. The accompanying website was finished in June. Lewis says there has already been an intense response to his committee’s work from indigenous groups all over the world. The Enka, Oroqen and Nanai in the area of Northern Asia, native Tasmanians and Hopi Indians are just a few examples of groups who have taken a strong interest. More than 1,800 communities representing 4 million people and 444 languages have signed on to participate in the network.