Snapshots

On Tribal Lands, Digital Divide Brings New Form Of Isolation

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. -- Like many college students, Wilhelmina Tsosie must go online to complete her assignments. But unlike the vast majority of Americans, she finds that the biggest challenge in her coursework is merely getting connected. Tsosie is a member of the Navajo Nation, the Native American community whose sprawling reservation has long been isolated from the rest of the country -- an isolation now being reinforced by the digital age.

On a recent night, she endured a 30-mile drive along a dark desert highway to reach this town, her nearest access point to the Internet. She carried her laptop into a hotel that offers wireless access. In the dim light of the lobby, she hunched over the screen and finished an online exam.

Like many Navajos, Tsosie, a petite 34-year-old with glasses and a jet-black ponytail, can’t receive basic Internet service at home, because her home is too remote. She and her husband and their two young children live near the peak of a tree-covered mountain, beyond the reach of Internet service providers, forcing her to drive long distances to get online.

This has never been easy, consuming time as well as gas money. Now, with local gas prices nearing $4 a gallon, Tsosie can no longer afford frequent trips to reach the Internet. She worries about the effects on her grades. Last semester, she failed a class after missing too many assignments — the result of unreliable web access, she says.

“If I passed that class, I would have been on time for graduating,” Tsosie said. “I would have had one semester left and now I have two.”

Her husband, Ben, said the long journeys to find an Internet connection have begun to feel “hopeless.”

“Sometimes we don’t have the gas money to go 30 miles to get on the Internet,” he said.

Tsosie’s dilemma reflects the extreme difficulties many Navajos confront in seeking to connect with the rest of the world. Some park on the side of highways, climb atop roofs, or drive to the peaks of mountains just to get within range of mobile telephone service. Others travel dozens of miles to use Wi-Fi hotspots outside hotels, restaurants and chapter houses — the local community centers on the reservation. Some who lack electricity run their computers on gas-powered generators.

FULL ARTICLE: On Tribal Lands, Digital Divide Brings New Form Of Isolation.

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