$84 Million Federal Grant To Boost Broadband Access In Tribal Areas

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has announced a $84 million Recovery Act investment to help the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) deliver new and enhanced broadband capabilities to some of the more remote regions of Washington state. The grant will finance the addition of 830 miles of fiber optic cable and eight new microwave sites to NoaNet’s existing high-speed network. Among other benefits, the project plans to directly connect the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Center, library, and clinic, and the Shoalwater Tribal center and clinic, as well as provide connection opportunities for the Makah Tribal center and clinic.

“This critical investment will expand high-speed Internet service access to Washington libraries and hospitals, and eventually homes and businesses, helping to make them full participants in today’s 21st century information economy,” Locke said. “Having access to the Internet’s economic, health and educational benefits will help to improve the quality of life in these communities.”

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), funded by the Recovery Act, provides grants to support the deployment of broadband infrastructure, to enhance and expand public computer centers and to encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service.

“This grant will help NoaNet take a major step forward in extending its broadband network to rural and underserved areas in Washington, including tribal centers for the Makah, Jamestown S’Klallam and Shoalwater Bay Tribes on the Olympic Peninsula,” U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks said. “This was the goal of our effort 10 years ago to make available excess BPA fiber capacity for this publicly-operated, non-profit project to drive broadband access beyond the major cities in the Northwest.”

Another Tribal broadband project currently awaiting NTIA funding is the Washington Rural Broadband Cooperative (WA-RBC), a non-profit agency started by the Tulalip Tribes. The WA-RBC project is an extremely high bandwidth initiative which delivers 10 Gb/s service to community anchor points (schools, tribal centers, libraries, and chambers of commerce), and leverages significant investments already made by the Tulalip Tribes in a data center and fiber optic infrastructure that can extend to other tribes and rural communities.
 

Tribes Turn To Federal Court In Pacific Fishing Rights Dispute

In a case with implications for more than twenty Tribes in the Pacific Northwest, the issue of Native American fishing rights and boundaries in the Pacific Ocean has been brought before the federal District Court for the Western District of Washington.

In an earlier proceeding, the Court determined that the Makah, Quileute, and Quinault nations had usual and accustomed fishing grounds in the Pacific Ocean. It was determined that the Makah’s usual and accustomed fishing grounds “included the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca . . . extending out into the ocean to an area known as Swiftsure and then south along the Pacific coast to an area intermediate to Ozette village and the Quileute Reservation,” as well as certain rivers and lakes. The Court determined that Quileute usual and accustomed grounds included certain rivers, lakes and streams and “the adjacent tidewater and saltwater areas”, and that the Quinault utilized “ocean fisheries” in “the waters adjacent to its territory.” See 384 F. Supp. at 374 (FF 120).

However, the Court did not define the precise boundaries of the nations’ “usual and accustomed fishing grounds” in the Pacific Ocean, and the Court’s decision was limited to waters within the jurisdiction of the State of Washington and within three miles of shore. The question of precise ocean boundaries for the nations’ respective fishing rights remains unresolved. The Request for Determination filed by the Makah Tribe alleges:

On the basis of the information Makah assembled in response to the threat posed by Quileute’s and Quinault’s intent to participate in the Pacific whiting fishery in the manner described above, it appears that Quileute and Quinault have authorized and currently are conducting fisheries for salmon, halibut and black cod outside of their actual usual and accustomed fishing areas. Although Makah, Quileute and Quinault have been able to resolve disputes over these fisheries in the past, the Quileute and Quinault fisheries for these species compete directly with Makah fisheries for the same species.

It is interesting to note that the nations had previously worked out such issues through direct negotiation, but now have placed the power over their respective jurisdictions and economic rights in the hands of a federal judge.
 

Teaching Indian Languages Preserves Heritage

The Seattle Times recently ran an article entitled, "Saving Native Languages."  According to the article, there is a diminishing number of elders whose native tongue is their first language and tribes are racing to preserve their languages by teaching it to the youth in their communities.

In order to preserve this crucial aspect of their heritage, elders have compiled dictionaries for languages that were entirely oral; recording elders; transcribing tapes; and especially, teaching the next generation of speakers. They have even set up classrooms and prepared teachers to pass on the gift of the native language. At Tulalip Elementary, for example, classrooms are set up to teach children Lushootseed, one of Washington state's native languages. Approximately 80 percent of the students are of Native American decent, but nonnative children are just as interested in learning the new language. Incredibly, the article reports that by fourth grade, many of the children can speak in sentences, writing and following commands, all in Lushootseed. I had to learn English when my family immigrated from Poland and it's amazing how quickly I picked up the language as a seven year old child. It was easy and fun for me to learn a new language. Just as it is easy for the children attending Tulalip Elementary.  The article reports that  the students take to the language with ease and greatly enjoy the cultural experience of learning a new tongue, especially in the earliest grades.

According to the article, before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, more than 300 languages were spoken in North America. Today an estimated 175 or so indigenous languages are spoken in the United States but about 90 percent are moribund, with very few children speaking them as their first language. Today, there are about 16 native languages still spoken in Washington. They are languages as musical as their names: Makah; Okanagan, Klallam, Quileute, Lushootseed.

It is incredibly inspiring to hear that not only have Tribal elders taken a proactive role in preserving Native American languages, but that the youth have embraced learning the language that will give them one of the most intimate connections to their cultural heritage possible -- and that is one of the greatest gifts of all.