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February 28, 2001

Media Contact: Dolores Davies, UCSD, (858) 535-5994 



A wired world is on the horizon for San Diego area Indian reservations, thanks to a recent $5 million Digital Village Grant from Hewlett-Packard. The grant will pave the way for a major regional collaboration among The Southern California Tribal Chairman's Association (SCTCA), Southern California tribes, and the University of California, San Diego, as well as a wide network of schools, colleges, and agencies serving the tribal communities.

While participants to date have included Palomar College, regional Indian Health Clinics, and the Warner Springs and Valley Center School Districts, numerous more agencies and organizations are expected to be involved in the program, making it a complete "Digital Village." The three-year Digital Village Grant includes the construction of high-speed, broadband connections between 17 Indian reservations and the Internet, and includes the donation of HP products, services, consulting, and support.

The San Diego region reservations have a population of approximately 7,675 residing in isolated and scattered communities stretching from the U.S.-Mexico border to southern Riverside County - an area spanning 150 miles. The current patchwork of reservation lands is the result of government policies over the last 150 years, that have led to fractured and marginalized communities, characterized by widespread poverty, a 50% unemployment rate, low high school graduation rates, and underserved residents.

"This grant will enable us to create a digital community that mirrors and amplifies the community and kinship networks that have historically sustained the Kumeyaay, Luiseno, Cupeno, and Cahuilla tribal communities," said Ross Frank, a professor of Ethnic Studies at UCSD who worked with the SCTCA in developing the grant proposal. "Connecting reservation communities digitally will allow for a wide range of educational, training, and cultural activities to flourish, transcending geographical separation and enabling new levels of interaction and collaboration among members of tribal areas."

According to Jack Ward, an administrator for the SCTCA, the Digital Village Grant provides San Diego tribal communities with a tremendous opportunity to leverage an existing project to form the technological backbone for a digitally enabled tribal community. The HPWREN (High-Performance Wireless Research and Education Network) project, funded by the National Science Foundation, has recently connected the Pala, La Jolla, and Rincon reservations to broadband Internet. With the additional resources, the project can extend this high-performance wireless backbone to other reservations in the region, concentrating on educational centers.

"It is our hope that connecting our communities digitally can help to restore our cultural ties, as well as build a solid foundation for continuing education and economic growth," said Ward.

In addition to providing a wide range of computer products, the Digital Village Grant will include training community members on how to maintain the digital network as well as teaching them basic and more advanced computer skills. It also includes the training of community organizations on how to develop educational and training courses to take advantage of the distance interaction techniques and opportunities that will be made available by the network.

"A successful HP Digital Village project in the San Diego tribal communities will likely produce a model that can be duplicated in various other regions of the U.S. with comparable dispersed tribal communities," said Frank, who is a specialist on Native American cultures. "Hewlett-Packard should be commended for its innovative approach to bridging the digital divide. The Digital Village program is about listening to communities, working with them to define priorities, and then applying HP technology, consulting, and volunteers to address the issues and problems in each community setting. It's a much more hands-on approach than just providing the financial resources and walking away."

Recent federal reports have shown that Americans residing in tribal areas will continue to lag behind others in gaining access to advanced telecommunications services if existing socioeconomic trends are allowed to play out.

In addition, UCSD is hoping that these expanded digital links to tribal communities can help bolster the university's efforts to increase the number of UC eligible American Indian students. Historically, American Indians have been the least represented American ethnic group among student populations at UC and other comparable institutions of higher education. The university's student affairs office has recently launched a new model to increase outreach efforts to American Indian children to encourage and prepare them to aspire to a college education.

According to Hewlett-Packard, more than 200 underserved communities across the nation applied last year for Digital Village Grants. The San Diego grant was one of two awarded this year. The other grant was received by a community in Baltimore, Maryland.

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