I grew up in my home community of Attawapiskat during a time when technology in the world was changing. You would never have known it if you lived in the middle of the wilderness on the banks of the Attawapiskat River. What was commonplace in terms of technology in southern communities took a long time to reach us.
My friends and I ignored the television to a great degree simply because there wasn’t much to watch. There were only four channels at that time. We entertained each other outdoors by playing near our homes or exploring our community, the riverside and the woods nearby. Our families were also close to the land and I had many opportunities to visit remote camps and locations along the coast, the islands on the salt-water bay and along the rivers and creeks of James Bay. Life was more about hunting and being out in nature.
My new friends out here in the south understand where I have come from. They realize that children growing up in a remote community have far fewer opportunities or exposure to new technologies. It surprises them when they discover just how much I know about computers and their operation. I have learned to work with popular operating systems, how to install software and hardware and how to use and maintain these systems. I never thought too much of this ability. I have always had an interest in the computer, as it is a tool that fits perfectly with my interest in writing. I use computers to produce, edit and store my work. I also use a computer to hook up to the internet to send out my stories and communicate with the rest of the world.
When I started high school in Timmins in 1989, computers were just becoming popular and I realized early on that it would be an advantage to learn as much as I could about them. It wasn’t until I switched to attending secondary school in my home community on the James Bay coast in 1992 that I had my first chance to use a computer with a full operating system. Most people back home had not even heard of computers but luckily for me my brother-in-law, Brian Wesley had a keen interest in technology and he was hooked on these new gadgets. He gave a system to me and my younger brothers Paul and Joseph, as a hand me down.
We happily enjoyed our new computer and loaded arcade games and flight simulators into its memory. We also loaded desktop publishing software to produce our own newsletters of funny articles and jokes, then printed them out for our family to enjoy. We never had anyone around to teach us. We set up the system ourselves and learned how to operate the different software programs. Over a period of about three years, Brian kept passing down outdated systems as he kept upgrading to the latest computers. We had no fear and attacked the computers hungry for more knowledge.
Just about anybody can afford to get their kids a used computer these days and that is all you need to get started. Believe me, any young person who has the chance to work on computers will master the challenge in a short time.
I encourage any young person to learn as much as they can about computers. First Nation youth might think that they are isolated or removed from the rest of the world. If they have a computer and an internet connection, they can access the whole world. If there is no internet connection, a computer with some of the latest features allows a person to use it as an entertainment system that will load, create and mix their favourite music or allow them to come up with their own productions.
You don’t have to do anything special to get into computers. I never took any course or educational program to learn how to use a computer. I think the best way to learn is to simply sit down and go at it. If you run into a problem ask a friend or consult a tutorial, as most programs come with one. If you are on line then you can access the internet to gather resource material and read about what others are doing.
People point out the disadvantages of computers as being all consuming and taking people away from reality or nature. I suppose there is a down side to this technology but like everything else in life, with moderation many good things can happen. More than ever knowledge is power and as First Nation’s people if we are not involved in the leading edge of computer technology we will be left out of the loop. So get a lap top with a good battery and write a story under a tree somewhere.