Prosperity Games to Bridge Digital Divide

Feb 15th, 2001 | By | Category: 12-3: How to Build a Dream, Tribal College News

For American Indians, the “digital divide” is a canyon. Indians have poverty rates three times higher than the national average, and half of all Indian reservation homes do not even have a telephone. At Dull Knife Memorial College in Montana, two computers provide the only Internet access for 240 students. Less than half of the 33 tribal colleges have access to a T-1 line at a time when most universities and researchers require access to the much faster T-3 lines.

It doesn’t have to be that way, according to participants in a recent “Prosperity Game” in the Silicon Valley in October 2000. More than 100 “stake holders” gathered in November to play a game with very high stakes – transformation of tribal college communities and ultimately of communities throughout Indian Country. Judging from the goals they produced at their meeting, they believe this transformation can take place by providing the appropriate resources, partnerships, infrastructure, and regulatory atmosphere.

These stakeholders included visionaries but visionaries grounded in first hand knowledge of how difficult the transformation could be. The infrastructure group, for example, envisioned $20 billion to hook up Indian Country. Participants included presidents of tribal colleges and other minority and mainstream universities, as well as high ranking executives of firms such as IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Lucent Technologies, Tachyon Inc. The players were diverse, including representatives of the federal government, nonprofit sector, states and local governments, tribes, Maori colleges in New Zealand, and the public.

At Palo Alto, participants were divided into 11 stakeholder teams that worked together, simulating a 10-year time span for developing tribal college technology. The games were first developed by the Sandia National Laboratory to resolve national policy issues, according to Carrie Billy, executive director of the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities. They are modeled after war games. A design team including representatives of the tribal colleges and their organizations as well as Domenici Littlejohn, Inc. adapted the games.

In November, participants synthesized the groups’ recommendations into the first draft of a National Framework, which they expected to present to the tribal college presidents in February 2001. The framework will serve as a major resource for policy makers, the private sector, and for individual tribal colleges’ own technology plans.

The games were designed to pool expert knowledge from different sectors of society and to form new relationships for the tribal colleges, according to Thomas Davis of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium technology committee. Although the National Framework will take years to fully implement, it has already resulted in new partners for the tribal colleges. Within a month after the event, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College President Jack Briggs said he had already received emails and inquiries from people he met there.

The participants shared an interest in bridging the digital divide on reservations for many altruistic and practical reasons. Indian people on reservations are potential customers of computers and software, and they also represent one of the nation’s last untapped work forces. Billy of WHITCU said the government is looking for ways to make investment on reservations attractive to high-tech companies. “The situation with Native Americans is America’s dirtiest little secret,” said Lynn Cutler, former President Clinton’s adviser on Indian affairs, according to USA Today.

The Prosperity Games were sponsored by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the American Indian College Fund, and the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities. For more information about “Circle of Prosperity: Tribal Colleges, Tradition, and Technology,” see the website <>.

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