NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., told a United Nation conference on eradicating world poverty that the Navajo Nation is doing its part to bring information, communications and technology to Navajos and will soon do the same for other indigenous people around the world.
At Shirley's side was U.S. Sen. John Kerry who said that ICT is the new critical technology, and likened the worldwide hunger for it to the1930s when President Franklin Roosevelt and the entire country understood that connecting both urban and rural areas with electricity was essential for growth and development.
That understanding resulted in a federal pledge to get electricity to every home through rural electrification.
"I believe that information technology, the broadband and the ability to access it is the critical ingredient of this globalized marketplace we're living in and our ability to begin to break down barriers and be able to connect people to all kinds of possibilities that will improve health care, improve education and empower people," Kerry said.
The president attended the sixth Infopoverty World Conference, sponsored by the Observatory for Cultural and Audiovisual Communication (OCCAM), a United Nations non-governmental organization. He chaired a session titled "New Protagonists of the Global Challenge: Indigenous People and Local Communities."
"We are here to talk about ending poverty in the world in nine years," he said. "We know we cannot do it by ourselves. We have to do it working together, complementing each other."
Joining the session by satellite-conferencing were representatives in Moscow, Russia, and on the Navajo Nation, including Navajo Department of Education Director Leland Leonard.
Shirley reported that last November he spoke on behalf of the International Indigenous Steering Committee at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia.The committee represented the concerns of self-sustainability for more than 370 million of the world's indigenous peoples.
The Navajo Nation has been recognized for providing free Internet access to any Navajo who wants it by providing all 110 chapters with wireless, satellite communications. In doing so, it created one of the largest wireless networks in the world.
Shirley said it is necessary to use knowledge and technology to eradicate poverty in the world while continuing to be people with unique cultures, languages, color and sacred ways.
"We do not have to die from poverty," the president said. "We can work together to sustain ourselves."
Lee Swepston, senior human rights advisor for the International Labor Organisation, said information technology is necessary to help rid the world of poverty gripping millions of indigenous and isolated people.
"The access to information for indigenous people is absolutely essential," Swepston said. "Otherwise they will be blocked from the economic means all around them."
He said when many indigenous people take part in the local economies of their lands, they are often at the bottom rung, subject to the worst abuses of children labor, forced labor, unfair labor practices and the inability to bargain for their rights.
"This is something that can be largely addressed by providing education, a means to education, and access to education," Swepston said.
Shirley emphasized that all people throughout the world are as Navajo medicine people describe them; five-fingered, intelligent earth dwellers called Homo Sapiens. As such, he said, everyone is on the same side and must fight similar evils in the world.
These evils represent the same enemies that are not controlled by any government, he added. These are hunger, thirst, jealousy, envy, greed and all manner of diseases, Shirley said.
"Imagine the power that we will have if everyone is connected out there, all of the people and indigenous countries. Let's communicate to get us out of this poverty thing, and make war against the real monsters."
Shirley said the Navajo Nation has created a partnership with OCCAM and the International Telecommunications Union. Soon, he said, these organizations will establish an Internet portal on Navajoland through which the indigenous nations of the world can come to work together, and share information and technology.
"OCCAM and the Navajo Nation have partnered to build an OCCAM facility on the Navajo Nation to deliver video distance education via satellite to indigenous peoples," he said. "This facility will be staffed by Navajo employees and volunteers and will be used to honor the languages, values and traditions of all indigenous peoples while providing distance education, economic opportunity, health, e-government programs and emergency and disaster management."
The Navajo Nation has also signed an MOU with the Brazilian Inter-Tribal Committee to replicate the Navajo ICT Model experience. This agreement allows the Navajo Nation to participate in what is estimated to be a $25 million project to provide ICT to 1,100 indigenous communities throughout Brazil.
The project will be done in partnership with OCCAM, ITU and with the support of the Latin American Technological Information Network, the Brazilian Ministry of Communications, Anatel and the Brazilian Ministry of External Affairs, he said.
"This is a real first for the Navajo people and our Brazilian brothers and sisters," Shirley said. "We are very proud to be a part of this historic program."
Without ICT, the president said, "We languish in a quagmire of ignorance, apathy and myriad other negative forces which then make up our impoverishment. We need to use the knowledge about ourselves, our families, our communities and the world we live in--to complement and help out each other--and to use it to get us out of our impoverishment.Believing that there are no impossibilities, and there are none, we can get there."
(George Hardeen is Navajo Nation Communications Director.)