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A Walk Through Native America on the Web

by Terri Stevens


Just outside mainstream America exists the history, cultures and traditions of this country's indigenous people—the spirit of Native America. Now, with a growing number of sites on the World Wide Web, you can follow the past and present lives of these American Indians who have, for centuries, fought to retain their traditional ways of life.

There are about 567 federally recognized indigenous tribes in the United States, and within each are historic differences. Some lived in teepees, their homes following the seasons and the buffalo. Others built longhouses and farmed the land. Some lived in mountain cliffs or mounds in the earth. Their stories of creation, their ways of life were different. Yet, as American Indians, their descendants today share many common bonds.

To begin a journey into Native America online, visit the official home pages of the nations and tribes. Indian Circle lists more than 330 of the federally recognized tribes, and links to more than 100 with home pages. Through these pages, tribes offer their history, messages from chiefs, tourism information, news and event calendars, and even insights into their customs and spirituality. Many, such as the Chickasaw Nation, detail their form of government. Most also provide links to additional recommended sites.

For a somewhat radical, yet honest, education on Native America, the award-winning First Nations Website houses a wealth of information on historical and contemporary issues, and is the home of the First Nations/First Peoples mailing list. This site was created and is maintained by Jordan S. Dill, a man of English, Irish and Tsalagi (Cherokee) descent. Dill says his site is not intended to be a pleasant experience, but rather to provide raw, pertinent, foundational data regarding the state of Native America, a window through which you might glimpse "what is." According to Education World's site review, First Nations is a "gem" for anyone interested in Native American history. The information is solid, and could be used by history and cultural studies teachers to supplement lesson plans covering the subject.

Another site filled with information is Native American Indian: Art, Culture, Education, History and Science. Although the site has not been maintained since the death of its author, Paula Giese, in 1997, it still provides more than 300 pages of stories, history, food recipes and much more, all prepared as an educational tool for American Indian teachers, students and schools.

Those specifically interested in food recipes can go directly to Giese's Native American Foods, where recipes for wild rice, corn, squash, pumpkin, beans, fruits and berries are found. There are also recipes for fish, birds, deer and other meats, for herbal teas, and variations of the popular Indian fry bread.

For those seeking a quick lesson in American Indian history, check out On This Date In North American Indian Historyby Phil Konstantin, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. The site lists over 3,000 historical events that either happened to or affected American Indians. Konstantin's site is recommended by the "History Channel," and has received numerous Web awards including the "American Anthropology and History Award for Accuracy and Excellence," as well as the "Lycos Top 5%," and "Select Surf's Best of the Web."

Speaking of dates, November seems the perfect month to acknowledge the progress of American Indians who have, for generations, fought assimilation and even, some say, attempts at genocide in their native lands. As many Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, others observe Native American Heritage Month, declared by President Clinton. This year many have also dedicated the month as Leonard Peltier Freedom Month.

Peltier is an Anishinabe-Lakota Indian and a leading member the American Indian Movement , incarcerated in a federal penitentiary for the last 23 years, unjustly so according to his supporters. His story was documented in the national bestseller, In The Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen, and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have called for his immediate and unconditional release. Peltier's supporters hope President Clinton will finally grant him Executive Clemency this December. Through the International Office of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, you can learn more.

American Indian activism is found throughout the Web, with sites hosting petition drives and letter-writing campaigns, as well as other pleas for action and justice. Among those are The Sovereign Dineh Nation Webpage and Camp Justice.

Camp Justice is an encampment of teepees and tents just outside the Nebraska/Pine Ridge border town of Whiteclay, which formed after the bodies of two Lakota men were found brutally murdered June 8, 1999. The deaths of Wally Black Elk and Ronnie Hard Heart added to a number of unsolved murders of American Indians near the reservation, and the people of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation demanded justice. Their encampment continues, as does the struggle for the Dineh.

The Sovereign Dineh Nation, a grass-roots organization of traditional Dineh (Navajo) families on Black Mesa in Northeastern Arizona, appealed to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as a last attempt to oppose a federal relocation deadline of February 1, 2000. For more than two decades the Dineh have fought relocation from the Black Mesa/Big Mountain area, from ancestral lands where massive reserves of coal were discovered. Information concerning the relocation, the Dineh/Hopi land dispute, and Peabody Coal can be found on the Web, including in the article, "Power Play" by Victor Mejia.

Another highlighted controversy facing many Americans concerns the use of American Indian mascots and nicknames in sports. In Whose Honor documents Native American artist and activist Charlene Teters, from her protests against the Indian mascot at the University of Illinois to the rebirth of the national movement against racism in sports. Dual photos, provided by the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media, of which Teters is vice president, explain the controversy best.

To stay current on issues facing Native America, visit several of the many newspapers online such as Indian Country News, a national independent Indian newspaper reporting news, culture, gaming and entertainment. The People's Paths home page provides a list of publications in Online Publications By & Concerning Indian People.

You can also listen to news live from Indian Country through the American Indian Radio on Satellite (AIROS) Network . AIROS is a national distribution system for native programming to tribal communities and general audiences through Native American and public radio stations and the Internet. With just a click you can plug into a live discussion in Indian Country and listen to traditional and contemporary American Indian music 24 hours a day.

While listening, you may become enchanted by these sounds and want to hear more. Major producers such as Canyon Records, which specialized in the production and distribution of American Indian music since 1951, and Indian House, a 30-year old record company specializing in traditional American Indian music, can help bring your selections into your home. You can also go directly to the artists themselves. Many, including celebrated singer, songwriter and composer Joanne Shenandoah, have their own home pages. A list of native music and arts organizations and individuals is maintained by Lisa Mitten at the University of Pittsburgh.

Once you've listened to the music and can't get the beat of the drum out of your head, perhaps it's time for a powwow. At Pow Wow Dancing, you can learn about the background of powwows, various dance styles and dress, and etiquette for dancers and visitors. Search through an updated calendar for powwows you can attend. Other calendars can be found at Pow Wow Highway and in Four Winds Trading.

If you would rather see a glimpse of Native America online, A Virtual Journey provides photographs of sacred sites and ruins, such as Chaco Cultural National Historical Park and Bandelier National Monument, as well as images of petroglyphs at Chaco and Petroglyph National Monument. The site also includes photos of Ute Mountain, Caprock Canyon, the Dakotas and more.

Nevertheless, to really know the heart of Native America, one must listen, hear and feel what the people say. Voices of the Wintercount is dedicated to sharing the thoughts, ideas, and words of traditional Native American people. The site hosts original, unedited comments by real people who are taking a stand for their way of life. One section, "From the Hearts of the People," includes statements by Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Nation, Hopi prophecies by elders, and declarations and proclamations by the Peoples. In "Buffalo Laughter," people speak out about the continuing slaughter of the last remaining wild bison near Yellowstone National Park. Actual video footage and photos of the slaughters are available for viewing online. "Wintercount Archives" houses historical articles that show some of the common perceptions of American Indians during the times they were written.

As many elders throughout Native America have said, it's time for the stories to be told. The roads leading into Native America online are many. Let's take a walk.


Terri Stevens is a freelance writer living in Huffman, Texas. She also creates and maintains Web sites, including Three Feathers Native Connection, and is a Cherokee descendant.


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