From Cyberspace to Offline Communities: Indigenous Peoples and Global Connectivity

By Belton, Kristy A. | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, July-September 2010 | Go to article overview

From Cyberspace to Offline Communities: Indigenous Peoples and Global Connectivity


Belton, Kristy A., Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


  This article examines how indigenous peoples use two unique spaces of
  a globalizing world--cyberspace and the United Nations Permanent
  Forum on Indigenous Issues--to make their claims, foment alliances,
  and assert their right of self-determination. It describes how
  indigenous peoples' use of these two spaces positions them so they
  are no longer simply reacting to globalizing processes and events but
  are situated so that others will have to contend with their
  alternative visions of the world. KEYWORDS: Internet, funding,
  globalization, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, self
  determination, United Nations

Indigenous peoples are fighting to retain ancestral lands, customs, and beliefs in the face of an amorphous and malevolent force known as globalization. (1) This force promises to undermine, if not obliterate, the ancient ways and knowledge of indigenous peoples around the globe. One only has to open a newspaper or perforin a perfunctory search on the Internet to learn how governments, multinational corporations, and other third parties exploit indigenous peoples. Lands are taken, ways of being are threatened, and, in the process, entire communities often become separated from their common past and each other. One might conclude from these images and stories that, the forces of globalization have exacted much of these peoples and provided few, if any, benefits in return.

This picture is not entirely accurate, however. While many indigenous peoples struggle to maintain or recuperate their right of self-determination, resist development projects that take place on their land without their free prior and informed consent, and fight to guard their cultural and spiritual distinctiveness, they also use certain features of a globalizing world to help them achieve their multiple goals. This article examines how indigenous peoples, who "are seldom considered in discussions of the 'globalisation juggernaut,"" (2) use two unique spaces of a globalizing world--cyberspace and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII)--to make their claims, foment alliances, and assert their right of self-determination, among other aims.

The first section defines key concepts and briefly situates indigenous peoples in relation to "antiglobalization" movements. The second section examines indigenous peoples' use of cyberspace to achieve varied goals and discusses some of the disadvantages and advantages of the Internet and other "new technologies" for indigenous peoples. The third section explains the role of indigenous peoples in the creation of the PFII, and a fourth section describes why this forum is such a unique and important space for indigenous activism. The section details UN encouragement of indigenous peoples' participation and development. The article concludes with the assertion that indigenous peoples' use of these online and offline spaces demonstrates that indigenous peoples are no longer simply reacting to external events and processes that occur at them, but are placing themselves in a position whereby others have to contend with them.

Globalization and Indigenous Peoples

The idea that the world is changing, becoming more interconnected, and allowing events and actors from afar to influence the happenings and actions of others in other lands is not new to the twentieth or the twenty-first century. (3) As any student of colonial history knows, change from afar--in the form of new technologies and ideas and novel ways of living and dying--has been thrust upon indigenous peoples without their consent since well before the term globalization was introduced. What makes this current wave of change and interconnectedness more palpable, however, is not only the strength and speed by which it evolves but the ability of indigenous peoples to rise along with it and harness its energy to help them achieve goals pertaining to indigenous rights and recognition.

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From Cyberspace to Offline Communities: Indigenous Peoples and Global Connectivity
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