The idea of a virtual Indigenous university was the center of discussion at Northwest Indian College during many gatherings during the 2000s. At that time, their teacher training program was reaching out to seven remote villages via a satellite bridge. Satellite technology proved to be effective for that purpose and brought with it many other possibilities.
As a result, the discussion of an Indigenous virtual university, where Indigenous scholars from across the nation could contribute their current findings, methods and instruction from their perspective discipline, became seriously considered.
During the discussions and reflections, it did occur to me that as Indigenous people we had not identified the boundaries or borders of virtual technology. The awareness that it was still energy that was being utilized and its source or presence if you will, was not completely understood.
The importance of that acknowledgement still resonates with me today, because of the Indigenous consciousness of natural resources and the elements that make up our human bodies -- earth, fire, water, air and space.
Virtual teaching such as Zoom, and other online methods of delivery are another responsibility in the line of resources, and deserve careful thought and direction. The importance here is to not overtax the virtual resources as a tool and treat it as an endless resource because we don’t know how far we can go with it and for how long it will meet our needs.
In the meantime, we have excellent online programs and academies reaching us in our homes, such as, the Indigenous Pedagogy Virtual Academy (Dan Ninham, 2020). Due to our environmental limitations we know that the online delivery is here to stay, at least in the immediate future. Students, parents and instructors now have the opportunity to see curriculum emerge from different parts of the country and from diverse Indigenous backgrounds.
What I see is the opportunity to speak and teach beyond the classroom and is uninhibited by local benchmarks. Our students will be some of the first benefactors of the virtual academy that looks at all regions and people holistically. To allow people to be who they are, where they are, and validate their human conditions, knowledge, creativity, and expression supports social justice efforts in an unexpected way, which is so needed in our society at this time.
As you become more and more comfortable with online communication, you will find that the face-to-face time in a gallery screen does allow you to connect with others in a virtual way. I am certain as the virtual academy and others develop, we will find more ways to connect with each other, creatively using the technology from our screens and as the software goes beyond its current limitations.
In retrospect to the discussions at Northwest Indian College, it was just a matter of time before someone took hold of virtual curriculum and moved it to the next level. In the future, we will see other academies springing up across the country, each with its own innovation and mission. Think of how grounding it is to travel virtually to any part of the world, never leave your home and know how you can reach out and touch someone.
Vivian Delgado is a professor of Native American studies at Bemidji State University.