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— What effect the program will have on culture has been the chief concern of the tribes so far. "The issue that comes up," says Orosco, "is, 'Who is going to then have access to our cultural information?' " Ross Frank says this concern is voiced at every tribal meeting he attends. And it's not the older generation who is raising it. "It's the younger people," Frank says, "who are learning about their own culture and feeling that their parents had been dissuaded from passing it on in a way that they regret."

But there are ways, say Frank and Orosco, to digitize and therefore preserve many aspects of Indian culture without making it open to all eyes. "You can have digital archives," Frank says, "that tribes control and run that aren't necessarily out on the Web."

The Hewlett-Packard grant -- three quarters of which is in equipment and consulting -- ends Valentine's Day of 2004, at which point, Ross says, "The skills and the knowledge to use it are left locally in a way that's transmittable to the next group, the next kids, the next young people." Asked if the system will then sustain itself or fall into disuse and disrepair, similar to government-built reservation housing, Frank answers, "You've asked the $5 million question."

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