New technologies - have they helped First Nations people survive, or are they an insidious influence that undermines Native societies?
Ever since Europeans introduced the first guns, knives and metal cooking tools, indigenous societies have had to adjust to the impacts. Some of them made life easier, but at what cost?
Washington Post editor Denny McAuliffe, founder of the online Native student newspaper reznet, says all cultures have to change to survive. Culture is not static. It is always changing, it is always modernizing, he says.
I'm sure there are some Indians who didn't use these tools, but where are they? They didn't survive.
What strikes me is that our ancestors who come to mind are from 150 years ago, during the conflict times, just before or during the reservation days. These people were using horses and guns. Where did that come from? They were the tools of modern American society, and we briefly used them better than the other guys.
McAuliffe is enthusiastic about the benefits of new technologies for First Nations. The Internet, which allowed him to create reznet, and other technologies as tools to defend and advance Native interests, he says.
New technology has helped spark a revitalization of Native languages, as elders are recorded talking about their culture and the recordings are used in Native culture classes, McAuliffe says.
What are the tools of warfare today? It's the computer, or it's the college and high-school diploma. These things are there to help us live, help us survive, help our culture.
What is modern technology doing to us?
But others have doubts about new technologies. Paul Dixon, a Cree hunter and trapper in Waswanipi in northern Quebec, says trucks, snowmobiles and four-wheelers let trappers travel farther in search of animals for food and fur. And he scoffs at the notion that doing so makes him any less Native.
It doesn't make me any less Cree, he says. I'm using a skidoo to go hunting instead of a dogsled, but I'm still hunting. I'm not going to be walking around on logging roads if I can use a four-wheeler.
I will still have my dreams if I will kill a moose. Ninety percent of the time I'm dreaming about wildlife, and that's not going to change.
But Dixon warns new technologies come with hidden dangers. They can take people far from the natural world, change how they see life and make their hearts harder.
When we're in the bush, we can teach our children about the plants, vegetation, respect, life. If we take a person away from the bush, the harder his heart gets. And if this is true, what is modern technology doing to us? Technology could kill my beliefs to a certain extent, he says.
It changes perceptions, it changes everything.
Dixon says the Crees of James Bay are one of the world's strongest hunting societies today, and that is because they have preserved the oral traditions and language rooted in the traditional hunting way of life. He worries that writing down Cree knowledge about the land can actually undermine the Cree people.
Many times I feel we should write about it, but I am hesitant because we may feel so comfortable now that it is written down that we don't have to teach it, he says.
We're an oral people. Does this have to do with why we're one of the strongest aboriginal societies in the world? The elders pass on knowledge verbally. It's not written down. They pass it on as if yesterday was one million years ago. For us, 100 years ago was just one second ago, the way they talk about nature.
Passing on knowledge verbally may often be harder than just writing it down, he says, but preserving oral traditions is an important challenge for younger generations. It forces young people to go in the bush to learn, rather than just read about hunting in a book.
It's a challenging thing. You just have to go live it (the hunting way of life). It's the unique thing about it, he says.
Writing down Native knowledge may also reveal too much to non-Natives about sensitive areas, Dixon says. Cree hunters have often pointed out moose yards and bear dens to loggers in hopes of preserving the areas from clear-cutting, only to find loggers hunting there in their spare time.
If I write about it, I can lose it. When they know about us, they will know our weaknesses, he says.
Dixon uses a hunting analogy to explain. If I see a big flock of geese but they don't see me shooting, I can get 125 geese. They will not know where I am coming from.