- Network Sovereignty: Building the Internet across Indian Country by Marisa Elena Duarte
In Network Sovereignty, information scientist Marisa Elena Duarte offers a thoughtful and wide-ranging exploration of the ways that Indigenous communities in the United States have used information and communication technologies (ICTs) to extend their sovereignty. Duarte's definition of ICTs is expansive, including smartphones, broadband Internet, laptops, fiber optic cables, streaming radio, and any other device that allows "for the synchronous or asynchronous exchange of digital content between humans" (p. 167). Duarte contends that by engaging with these technologies, American Indian communities have disrupted settler assumptions about the shape and trajectory of technological progress and challenged the persistent framing of Indigenous peoples as "primitive." This book convincingly demonstrates that American Indians' use of ICTs is shaped both by the legal and regulatory systems of the settler state and by their own desire to expand their sovereignty, create economic opportunities, and protect their cultural heritage.
Over the course of eight chapters, Duarte weaves together a series of case studies documenting the use of ICTs across Indian Country, a theoretical analysis of the relationship between indigeneity and technology as conceptual categories, and a reflexive examination of her own research process "as a Yaqui information scientist working through the colonizing logics built into the research university environment" (p. 29). This book contributes to a robust and growing body of literature, which includes the work of scholars like Rob McMahon, Susan O'Donnell, and Brian Beaton, all of whom have similarly explored how remote First Nations communities in Canada have used the adoption of broadband networks and digital technologies to promote self-determination. However, American Indians' use of ICTs has received far less scholarly attention than that of their First Nations counterparts. And as Duarte points out, American Indians' relationships with ICTs are distinct in historically contingent ways.
Instead of flattening the diverse experiences of American Indians into [End Page 808] a single analysis, Network Sovereignty provides a series of examples that express the range of Indigenous digital projects taking shape in Indian Country. The ICT systems that American Indians have developed, Duarte explains, are intended to uphold "specific lifeways … [and] are not necessarily oriented towards ideologies of progress, expansion, assimilation … [or] the conquest of nature" (p. 133). One of the strengths of this book is its careful distinction between the universal aspects of efforts to use ICTs in Indian Country, like negotiations with federal and state authorities, and those which are specific to each tribe, like the need to design of infrastructure that corresponds to local landscapes and the creation of digital content that respects cultural and spiritual beliefs.
Duarte contends that technological systems are shaped by their political contexts and that Indigenous community leaders have sometimes envisioned ICTs as tools for political action. This particular argument may come as little surprise to historians of technology. Indeed, readers familiar with Eden Medina's important work on the intertwined histories of cybernetics and Chilean socialism should find it easy to accept that the construction of technological infrastructure, like broadband Internet service or satellite radio networks, has sometimes been conceptualized as an intentional and potentially revolutionary political project.
Nonetheless, Network Sovereignty suggests a provocative agenda for historians of technology, particularly those who write about Indigenous peoples. For instance, during the American Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, "organizers mobilized Native peoples and allies across Turtle Island through strategic radio and television broadcasts" (p. 78). These broadcasts reached a generation of teenagers who are now tribal leaders and who have a clear sense of the power of telecommunications to advance political goals. As Duarte notes, there is a substantial body of scholarship on media representations of Indigenous peoples, but far less historical treatment of Indigenous media production or the development of ICT infrastructure in Indian Country.
This book also makes an important methodological argument. Instead of focusing on the uneven availability of ICTs in Indian Country, an approach that would require diagnosing how inadequate infrastructure or market demand on reservations limits the expansion of existing networks...