Counting down to counting digital coup at SXSW

In just a few days, our panel “Cultural Appropriation: a fixable cultural crime” will become available at SXSW Online 2021. The conference itself will be digital and our panel will be available to view by attendees on March 16th, from 9:15am to 10:10am CST. “Counting coup” refers to a practice by some tribes and cultures … Read more

Native Tech

No one can exchange modern culture with one of many cultural groups who helped create it, that would be like you "exchanging" your copy of the the Mona Lisa with Da Vinci.
In the colonial world cultural exchange is about members of unique cultures sharing aspects of their cultures with members of other unique cultures. Haggis is unique to Scottish culture so it could be exchanged with Natives (if you can find anyone willing- not it! I do not eat sheep lungs) but technology that Indigenous Americans helped create is impossible to exchange with us. For the same reason, it would be impossible for us to appropriate the modern technology our people helped create.

That is why the argument that Natives often hear, "Indigenous people can’t use modern tech then", when we protest the religious and cultural bigotry of those who misuse the sacred objects of our cultureS (as in hundreds, hundreds of unique and separate cultures) is both inherently flawed and inherently bigoted. Like most anti-Native behaviors it seeks to erase both our modern existence as human beings and our long and continued history of contributions and innovation, but the truth is Natives played a huge part in tech development from day one and we still do today.

Natives have been at the forefront of space-age technology that powers the digital age since the beginning, as their spokes person said when the US Mint released their coin celebrating the Natives of NASA “American Indians have been on the modern frontier of spaceflight since the beginning of NASA”.

Not only was the first female engineer at Lockheed and NASA a citizen of The Cherokee Nation but she was a pioneer and founding member of the renowned Skunk Works project at Lockheed, the top-secret team that planned the early years of space exploration. Creating the satellite tech that helps power the digital age was literally rocket science and Mary Golda Ross was a major part of the team that drove that innovation. She was not just any Rocket Scientist, she was one of the first in human history.

Then there is Jerry Chris Elliott High Eagle, another of the first Native Americans who worked at NASA. He's best known as the lead retrofire officer during Apollo 13, where his quick thinking and actions saved the lives of the 3 astronauts and earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But, though it's less famous, his pioneering work in telecommunications plays a bigger role in modern tech than his leadership role in the moon landing and his lifesaving feats of engineering that averted a deadly tragedy on the Apollo 13 mission.

An excerpt from Telecommunications Technology and Native Americans : Opportunities and Challenges.An excerpt from "Telecommunications Technology and Native Americans : Opportunities and Challenges."

Mr. Elliott-High Eagle conducted the nation’s first telecommunications demonstration by satellite on October 10, 12 and 14 of 1978. While explaining how he organized it he said “I want three locations in the country on Indian reservations and I want the White House and the Congress involved for those three dates. I want to conduct a three-day satellite televised program using (a) communications satellite.”

Of course there is also Dr. Fred Begay-Young of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and part of a NASA-funded space physics research team on the origin of high energy gamma rays and solar neutrons in the 1960's and 70's whose research on lasers has made SO much tech possible.
Find out where to watch the NOVA special on his work here:

And speaking of Navajos, if you've ever wondered why computer circuits resemble Navajo weaving patterns then you will not be surprised to learn that this is not a coincidence but is in fact by intentional Navajo design.

As one scholar put it upon discovering the connection “I had no idea that indigenous people in the U.S. had played such an important role in the early history of computing devices…It flew in the face of all my knowledge about Silicon Valley and racial minorities.” (see the link below to learn more).

And that's literally just the beginning, an article long enough to list all the contributions to modern tech by Indigenous Americans would break the internet (but it's definitely worth exploring) further.

So remember, from the satellites that carry content to your screens from around the world to the code and components that make it possible, Indigenous innovation has played a major roll. Like IBM said nearly half a century ago, first at trade shows and conferences in the 1970's and (famously) in a national ad campaign in the early 1980's, computers are Native American Craft. It’s our technology as much as it is anyone else’s so we’ll keep using it while NOT disrespecting the sacred objects of other cultures and religions- the least everyone else can do is show the same level of integrity and social skills.

Special thanks to @perfecthannah for her help and contribution!

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