Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization


Cyber Imperialism and the Marginalization
of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples1

Frits Pannekoek*

Are Canada’s indigenous peoples, like the people of Canada, subject to an insidious “cyber imperialism” that threatens to alter and marginalize their cultures and even eradicate them within a generation? The process of marginalization appears inexorable. Perhaps in Canada the situation is more serious than it is the cyber third world, because the net has lulled most Canadians including Aboriginal peoples into seeing it only as a cornucopia of promise. Our governments have committed billions to constructing the superhighway and are only now beginning to be concerned about content. And they have clearly chosen not to leave Aboriginal communities “behind” if the Aboriginal site within Industry Canada’s Canada’s Digital Collections and Netera’s initiatives are any indication. However, the issue is more complex than simply putting up aggressive content relating to the Aboriginal cultures or Canadian content.

It can be argued that a knowledge economy based largely on Canadian and Aboriginal cultural and multicultural traditions and practices is not possible, because the global nature of the internet is such that it precludes this as an option. Several observations drive this conclusion. First the dominant internet language is and will continue to be English, despite the adoption of the internet by strong “second tier” languages. English is already so prevalent that the internet serves much like a lubricant accelerating its hold particularly on Aboriginal cultural industries. Second, the key stakeholders in the information economy are corporations, governments, and post secondary institutions all dominated by the power brokers and the middle classes not cultural non government organizations. While marginalized cultures can use the internet to reinforce community, to build protective barriers and to politicize their marginalization, they have for the most part remained on its economic and cultural periphery. Third, the state has shown little sustained interest to date in investing the kind of resources required to sustain a dynamic non-English or non-French Aboriginal cultural presence in all its complexity. Lastly, Aboriginal culture is perceived by Canadians to be best represented through the “cultural relic” lens of archives, libraries and museums. Through these lenses Euro Canadian triumphantism patronizingly praises the residue of native culture while lamenting the passing of its complexities.

David Theo Goldbert argues that in the post modern era colonialism continued to “segregate” and to “marginalize” through various constructs. For example,

In the 1950s and 1960s slum administration replaced colonial administration. Exclusion and exclusivity were internalized within the structures of city planning throughout the expanded (cos) metropolises of the emergent “west.” Fearing contamination from inner city racially defined slums, the white middle class scuttled to the suburbs. ... Local differences notwithstanding, the racial poor were simultaneously rendered peripheral in terms of urban location and marginalized in terms of power (1993: 189).

Can this observation be applied to the “cyber world?” First, some argue that the cyber world is not “colonized” and that Indigenous peoples can have real and meaningful impact. The successful internet based Zapatista revolt would seem to suggest that the cyber world has real power. But closer investigation would suggest that it was a revolt inspired by “liberal” American academics who had the e-resources of their Universities at their disposal. In Canada the “cyber” world hardly seems poised to radicalism. Indeed it continues in its quiet cyber segregation. Industry Canada carefully segregates the Aboriginal sites, as does the National Archives. This movement to “Native Portals” accentuates this separateness. Canada’s museums also tend to segregate native content. It is usually in a separate cyber gallery, and is usually at the beginning of the storyline, rarely scattered throughout the various subject specializations or exhibits. Even where modernity is desired, the subject is dealt with in the Aboriginal section of the exhibition.

Despite the wish of some Indigenous people to do so, it is “virtually” impossible to segregate by “race” on the internet. Rhonda S. Fair’s “Becoming the White Man’s Indian: An Examination of Native American Tribal Web Sites” (2000) argues, based on an examination of the Indian Circle web ring, that there are two web realities depending upon the purpose and focus of the web sites. There are those directed to an external audience which tend to reinforce and perhaps even create “stereotypes,” while those directed to the internal community tend to be more real.

Chapter 6, continued >


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