This is a collaborative work-in-progress documenting the history of NativeWeb, with contributions by NativeWeb board members Marc Becker, Carmel Vivier, and Peter d'Errico. Current version: January 16, 2002.
Introduction to NativeWeb
NativeWeb, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is the most widely recognized site on the internet
for information about Indigenous peoples. It exists to utilize the Internet to educate the public
about Indigenous cultures and issues and to promote communications between Indigenous
peoples and organizations supporting their goals and efforts. With databases containing
thousands of items, NativeWeb provides searchable access to materials in dozens of categories,
forums for user-provided information and discussion, and a daily digest of reports about current
news and events involving Indigenous peoples around the world. NativeWeb also provides
selected Indigenous organizations with resources to create and maintain World-Wide Web sites of
Our purpose is not to "preserve," in museum fashion, some vestige of the past, but to foster
communication among people engaged in the present and looking toward a sustainable future for
those yet unborn. The content of NativeWeb at the moment is predominantly about the Americas,
from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. In time, this will change. As access to the Internet grows, as
Indigenous peoples of other continents reach out through the Internet, NativeWeb will grow also.
Already NativeWeb provides links to the Sami of Northern Europe, the Maori of New Zealand,
and Aboriginal Peoples of Australia.
NativeWeb's mission statement (http://www.nativeweb.org/info/) states that:
NativeWeb is an international, nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to
using telecommunications including computer technology and the Internet to
disseminate information from and about indigenous nations, peoples, and
organizations around the world; to foster communication between native and
non-native peoples; to conduct research involving indigenous peoples' usage of
technology and the Internet; and to provide resources, mentoring, and services to
facilitate indigenous peoples' use of this technology.
Indigenous Peoples around the world have much in common amidst great diversity. Native
spiritual practices celebrate the inter-relatedness of all Life on Earth, and native peoples
historically suffer at the hands of industrialized nations and corporate entities. NativeWeb is
concerned with these spiritual and political dimensions, in addition to Indigenous literature and
art, legal and economic issues, land claims and new ventures in self-determination.
NativeWeb began its existence in May of 1994 as an outgrowth of the NativeNet listserv mailing
lists which Gary Trujillo began in 1989 as one of the first global listservs on the Internet. The
catalyst for NativeNet was a conference "From the Arctic to Amazonia: Industrial Nations'
Exploitation of Indigenous Peoples' Land" held at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts,
attended by people from every continent but the Antarctic. The conference demonstrated how
much Indigenous peoples of the world have in common and how much they needed ways to
Marc Becker, then a graduate student in Latin American History who had worked on HNSource,
a pioneering history web site at the University of Kansas, began discussions with Gary Trujillo
about using the technology of the World Wide Web to support and extend the struggles of
Indigenous peoples around the globe. Guillermo Delgado, a Quechua Indian from Bolivia and a
professor of Latin American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, along with Susan
O'Donnell, a staff member at Cultural Survival Canada, drafted an organizational framework for
this new project. Marc began to assemble materials based on this plan on his personal UNIX
computer account at the University of Kansas.
In April of 1995, NativeWeb formally separated from the NativeNet project and established its
own identity as an Internet website under the auspices of a small volunteer group of native and
non-native computer professionals and academics. In October of 1995, Marc left for Ecuador to
work on his dissertation and NativeWeb moved the site from the University of Kansas to Syracuse
University where David Cole, a webmaster at Syracuse, assumed primary responsibility for
administering the site. Slowly, a system of collective webmasters evolved.
In July of 1997, the site acquired the domain name nativeweb.org and moved to its own server in
order to access new technologies and to handle the heavy demand from users around the world.
Shane Caraveo redesigned the website based on the PHP protocol. This allowed the scripting of
databases which facilitated and enhanced the administration of the site.
In February of 1999, NativeWeb formally incorporated itself as a non-profit corporation in the
State of New York under the name NativeWeb, Inc. It established a formal board of directors
with 10 board members (Marc Becker, Shane Caraveo, David Cole, Keely Squirrel Denning,
Peter d'Errico, Alan Mandell, Pat Paul, Tara Prindle, Karen Strom, and Carmel Vivier). The
group now included a software programmer; a computer network specialist who was a member of
a Native American tribal council; a lawyer who was a tribal judge; an independent legislative
analyst focusing on native-related issues; a law office manager and freelance writer who works
with native communities in Canada; a novelist writing stories on native issues; and two university
professors: one a lawyer involved with Indigenous peoples' legal issues and the other a historian
focusing on Indigenous issues in Latin America. NativeWeb has always been a labor of love,
rooted in a volunteer workforce.
The board drafted, discussed, revised, and approved resolutions and bylaws, and proceeded to
elect Marc as president, Shane as vice-president, and David as secretary/treasurer. Because of the
dispersed and international character of the website, rarely has it been possible for board members
and other volunteers on the site to meet face to face. Holding meetings "online" has presented its
own unique set of challenges, including debates whether such meetings would be recognized
under New York corporate law.
NativeWeb has continued to expand at a dramatic rate of speed to the point where it is now
recognized as the premier site on Native peoples around the world. NativeWeb has received
recognition from various institutions for its contributions. In 1997, NativeWeb was chosen as one
of 20 humanities education web resources on EDSITEment, a joint project of the National
Endowment for Humanities, the Council of the Great City Schools, MCI Communications Corp.,
and the National Trust for the Humanities. NativeWeb is also a 'featured site' in the InterNIC
Academic Guide, and has received other World Wide Web awards. It enjoys over 5000 visitors a
day, and is widely used as a resource by teachers and students in K-12 classrooms. Other
websites commonly link to NativeWeb and its resources are often cited in academic papers.
What NativeWeb does
Since its founding, NativeWeb has strived to be a place where people on the Internet could go to
find information. A resource database with links to over four thousand sites that contain
information for, about, or important to Indigenous cultures remains the heart and soul of the
NativeWeb project. This browseable and searchable database is organized by Indigenous nations,
geographic locales, and thematic content.
In addition to the resource database, NativeWeb has engaged in a variety of other projects. One
of the most important is the hosting of web pages for Indigenous organizations and groups which
do not have resources to do this on their own. Since NativeWeb's beginning in 1994, the South
and Meso-American Indian Rights Center (SAIIC) supported the NativeWeb project and in turn
NativeWeb hosted their web page as well as that of their sister organization Abya Yala Fund.
SAIIC, based in Oakland, California, existed to ensure that the struggles of Latin America's
Indigenous peoples for self-determination and respect are heard in the US and internationally, and
to support Indigenous peoples' organizing.
Currently, NativeWeb hosts over 40 websites throughout the Americas. Although open to all
Indigenous organizations, most sites are a result of personal contacts with NativeWeb board
members. In particular, there are a large number of sites from Ecuador. The Confederation of
Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), a pan-Indian organization representing
Indigenous nations in Ecuador, was one of the first such sites to come on line. Subsequently,
many other organizations have also worked with NativeWeb to set up their own websites. For
example, the Instituto Científico de Culturas Indígenas (ICCI), a scientific-technical center which
brings together the thought and experiences of struggle connected to the organizational process of
the different indigenous organizations, publishes its monthly bulletin "Rimai" online at
NativeWeb. The Universidad Intercultural de las Nacionalidades y Pueblos Indígenas, and
Indigenous university in Ecuador, also maintains its web page at NativeWeb.
NativeWeb also actively expanded the number of other resources related to Indigenous issues
hosted on its server. For example, Michael Pipe developed a NativeLaw News Digest which has
been expanded into a broader news service on Indigenous concerns. We have an alerts and
announcements service that can broadcast urgent actions and human rights alerts. NativeWeb
also hosts an events database which includes listings of powwows, conferences, workshops and
other events of interest to Indigenous communities. We have also developed a Bookcenter with
links to over 1,000 books related to Indigenous issues, most of which can be purchased online.
NativeWeb has a lot of unrealized potential and continues to struggle to build its resources. For
example, Marc Becker has slowly been developing a website of Indigenous statements and
manifestos which is designed to be an electronic archive of primary documents on Indigenous
issues. This is designed to be an electronic archive of original materials - papers, historical
documents, digital photographs, and materials for and about native and indigenous peoples.
There are plans in the works to use the domain name nativeweb.com to create a native arts e-commerce mall which would provide a commercial space on the web for native vendors. The
development of economic services to provide direct marketing by native artists, with an art
education component, will help generate self-sustaining revenue for indigenous organizations and
NativeWeb is also looking to the future with respect to educational resources. Plans are
underway to look at providing archival materials for schools, and creating a resource database
that will be a collecting point for useable, virtual "classroom lesson plans" for both native and
non-native schools within the K-12 grades. This venture would provide NativeWeb with the
ability to become a major depository for educational teaching materials and resource content.
A long-term goal that NativeWeb has always embraced is extending Internet resource assistance
to indigenous organizations. Building on existing NativeWeb hosting services, this project would
provide technical training and assistance for organizations to maintain their own presence on the
Another possible project is the creation of a a collaboration project with students at highschool,
university or college level being given credit for their volunteer work such as checking links or
assisting K-12 students with webpage design. Besides providing students with a way to showcase
their talents, it would also provide NativeWeb with a whole new generation of volunteers. This
could turn into a cooperative program whereby the student could get school credits for their
volunteering and it would also raise the profile of NativeWeb in the educational community.
NativeWeb faces numerous challenges as it endeavors to continue and extend its services.
NativeWeb is conceptualized as a global endeavor, yet most of our material continues to focus on
the America. We continue to look for ways to extend our work into new areas of the world.
A much more persistent issue is the "last mile" problem of extending technological resources to
some of the most isolated and under-served people on the planet. How do you provide the
technological benefits of the Internet to Indigenous peoples living in areas without electricity,
much less the phone lines necessary to connect to the Internet?
We also face technological problems. Our in-house software has reached and surpassed the
extent of its original design, and is currently processing hundreds of thousands of page views per
month from several thousand daily visitors. To handle increasing demand and to expand the array
of services NativeWeb provides, our systems must be re-tooled using more advanced technologies
NativeWeb has always been based on a volunteer workforce, but it has grown to the point where
it is difficult to function on a solely volunteer basis. The principal organizers are providing
NativeWeb with as much support as possible within the constraints of their various employments.
Our present strategy to survive and grow, is to find funding through grants and donations for the
various components of the site and for new ventures or projects.