The Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, Alaska is working to connect its audience to the Internet. It may seem out of the scope of work for a museum focused on the preservation of culture but, digital inclusion supports cultural survival. In the Kodiak Archipelago, Native villages dot the coast of a wilderness area the size of Connecticut. There are no roads. Air taxis bring in groceries and mail, and take people to town for services–the dentist, clothes shopping. In this remote corner of the America, access to the Internet remains spotty and expensive. Yet, for those who can connect, the Internet offers vital opportunities for cultural education–chances to hear Alutiiq speech, view ancestral objects, watch culture bearers at work, and read about Alutiiq history. Digital connections build cultural connections.
The Alutiiq Museum grew from efforts to improve the well-being of Alutiiq people through cultural programming. The museum works to preserve and share Alutiiq traditions, especially the Alutiiq language. Twenty years ago, Alutiiq was on the verge of extinction, spoken by just a handful of Elders. With island-wide support, the museum intervened and developed an extensive set of Alutiiq language resources. Today, there are hundreds of recordings of Elder speakers, numerous language learning tools, and classes, all available online. Yet, many of the communities that contributed to this archive cannot access it.
The Alutiiq Museum is participating in digital inclusion to help its tribal audience access the information they helped to compile. It’s an issue of sharing what people have generously given the museum. Half of the museum’s mission is to preserve Alutiiq traditions. The other half is to use that information to educate and enlighten. The Internet is an incredibly powerful tool for education, especially in rural areas. It just makes sense for the Alutiiq Museum to advance digital inclusion because preserving and sharing information is part of who we are as an organization.