Navajo Hope Powered by the Internet

May 15th, 2001 | By | Category: 12-4: Colleges for the Community, Tribal College News

When President Bill Clinton visited Shiprock, N.M., and Diné College in April 2000, he discussed the importance of the Internet and the hope it can provide to all people, especially isolated reservations and other rural areas. Now Diné College and Crownpoint Institute of Technology are part of the Native American Broad Band High Speed Networking Consortium at Shiprock, N.M., which they expect to change the health, economic, and educational status of the Diné (Navajo) people in northwest New Mexico. They call their project the iHope Initiative.

In 1999, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) asked the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, N.M., to help demonstrate a next generation telemedicine application, which NASA wanted to deploy in the international space station. However, Shiprock lacked the necessary infrastructure to accommodate three-dimensional healthcare images. After experimenting with temporary satellite downlink solutions, the Northern Navajo Medical Center began looking at their dormant Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) line, which was installed by the General Service Administration (GSA) in 1997.

The Northern Navajo Medical Center approached local federal and tribal organizations about sharing both the bandwidth and the costs. In addition to the two tribal colleges and the medical center, the consortium now includes the Navajo Nation, Shiprock Boys and Girls Club, a Bureau of Indian Affairs school, and the school district. By sharing costs, the consortium could access the equivalent of 28 full T-1 lines. Consortium members paid approximately $705 per month for one full T-1 where individually they previously had to pay five times as much ($3,500 per month) for just part of one T-1 access line.

Wanting to assist other Indian communities, the consortium worked with the Department of Interior to utilize a dormant tower on Mount Taylor that could provide a wireless connection. Now the consortium is expanding its membership and services. The consortium delivers iHope through unparalleled bandwidth to more than 250,000 indigenous people on the Zuni and Navajo Reservations.

“Our consortium is beginning to serve as a national model for other tribes who are trying to bridge the digital divide,” according to Tom Duran, who chairs the consortium. Duran is the chief information officer for the Northern Navajo Medical Center. Duran believes it is the first of its kind serving Indian communities. Such a cooperative effort could be implemented on other reservations, and Duran is writing a case study for others to use. The consortium plans to deploy a mobile health care unit, develop the next generation telemedicine effort, and establish a computer training and connection center (commonly referred to as an incubator) for the Navajo Nation. Diné College plans to use the increased access for video conferencing as well as increased Internet access. Tom Duran can be reached by e-mail at <tom duran@shiprock.ihs.gov> or by phone at 505/ 368-6608.

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