Passport to the global information society:
UN fellows from Arctic circumpolar countries attend Global Forum on Indigenous Issues in the Information Society, and the World Summit on the Information Society
Mary Leeds Stapleton
Managing Director, Arctic Circumpolar Route
“It opened the world to me”, says Roy Dahl, Member of the Pikangikum First Nation, and Northern Correspondent, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. “We are not the only ones. Many others are seeking answers to best uses of information and communication technology (ICT)”, he added. Roy was one of ten indigenous professional journalists from around the Arctic Circle who were awarded United Nations Fellowships to attend the Global Forum on Indigenous Issues in the Information Society. The Global Forum was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in December 2003, in conjunction with the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). These conferences showcased every aspect of information technology and its uses, and indigenous groups attended from throughout the world. Others who won Fellowships included:
Shirley Adamson, Sabet Biscaye, and Roy Dahl, all from Canada, and Naja Paulsen from Greenland, addressed international participants on “Indigenous Peoples, Territorial-based Development and ICT: Challenges and Opportunities”; and “Traditional Indigenous Styles and Ways of Communication and Implications for Modern Technologies”. Their spirited presentation described the strengths and challenges of using information technology in an Arctic and northern context. Examples were given of successful approaches to multilingual broadcasting, aboriginal cultural content, and dedicated programming in all media. Canada’s and Greenland’s existing communications interested many other indigenous groups, many of whom are working in an environment which limits aboriginal peoples’ free expression of views.
Naja Paulsen described the accomplishments of Greenland in providing wide access to the Internet in small, isolated Arctic communities. To benefit all indigenous peoples, she suggested included multilingual media training involving the Greenland School of Journalism in Nuuk, where she is a teacher.
Nils-Johan Heatta addressed the Global Forum on Saami Radio’s proposed “intranet” to exchange programming among worldwide indigenous communicators. His vision includes expansion of services to northern Russia, which is at present without extensive access to electronic communication. Saami Radio, which he heads, presents regular programming in all Saami dialects in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The Saami have shown leadership in political and social cooperation across international boundaries for many years, and their example provided encouragement to groups now struggling with these issues.
Translation services were provided for all meetings, promoting vigourous discussions among representatives of all languages. Even those inexperienced in the use of the Internet acknowledged the potential of electronic communication to assist in conserving tradition while moving forward in education, health, governance, and sharing in the global Information Society. A concurrent Trade Show allowed participants to see such practical applications of ICT as an interactive African village, a mobile “Medivan”, and Japanese “high tech” developments for the future. “We could see ICT helping people to move forward on their issues”, says Shirley Adamson, General Manager, Northern Native Broadcasting, Yukon, Canada; “All this reaffirms what we’re doing in small organizations and small communities, with uncertain funding. It regenerates our enthusiasm and commitment.”
Inclusion of Arctic peoples did not come without major efforts on the part of many individuals and organizations. Even organizers from Geneva, an international centre, had to learn to deal with the costs and complications of travel from Arctic communities. Some who had received Fellowships did not receive the necessary funding in time to travel to the Summit.
As a result, a group of northern journalists formed the Arctic Circle of Indigenous Circumpolar Communicators (ACICC) to prepare for the second World Summit to be held in Tunis in 2005. “This was the greatest step forward that we made, thanks to attending the Global Forum. We could meet face to face and shape an agenda for the future”, says Shirley Adamson. “We will have a say in the impact of the Internet, e-medicine, and e-commerce on our communities.” The ACICC has established a preliminary website (http://acicc.on.to) where information can be exchanged by communicators both within and outside the Arctic. ACICC will work to ensure that journalists are aware of the opportunity to share views, programming, and training opportunities. ACICC’s aim is to encourage local content and relevant programming reaching the smaller communities, as well as those which are now well-served. Control and regulation of the Internet and provision of services in remote areas can be monitored and developments communicated. Wider consultation will take place when ACICC has been formally constituted. In the meantime, Mary Stapleton has been appointed Facilitator, and can be contacted for further information. The Arctic Circumpolar Route, of which she is managing director, will continue to foster the sharing of information on successful Arctic community projects and the inclusion of Arctic peoples in international activities (See www.circumpolarRoute.org.)
“This forum expanded my horizon”, says Sabet Biscaye, Executive Director, Native Communication Society, from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. “Talking to people from other countries made me realize what ICT really means. It was a stark reminder of how we in Canada are so privileged.” As an advocate for women, Sabet added that a lot of women who could really benefit from the Information Society do not have access to electronic communications, and as a result lack the skills to use it. “I recognized what we’re dealing with, and how far we have to go”, she stated. The Global Forum and the World Summit demonstrated the potential for Arctic inclusion in the Information Society of the Future.
Mary Leeds Stapleton
Managing Director, Arctic Circumpolar Route
Research Associate, Arctic Institute of North America
University of Calgary
Box 12, Site 7, R.R. 8
Calgary, Alberta, Canada