As a Technology Coordinator at the Community Technology Center at College of Menominee Nation, I have witnessed many great changes that have taken place within the surrounding community and its members. Many people from the surrounding communities have learned computers skills through our center, located in Keshena, Wisconsin. Skills that have made a difference in their lives.
Skype is one computer program people often want to learn. It is a face-to-face video chat program. This means that, for example, a parent in Wisconsin can communicate with their child in Florida, like grandparents Greg and Nancy Powless (Oneida) do with their grandchild. Once they had Skype set up on their computer and were trained how to use it, the two were able to build a communication channel with their grandchild in Florida. “Communicating with our grandchild through Skype has brought more joy into our lives,” says Nancy Powless. “More than if they were to just use the phone.”
Nancy and Greg have also used Skype to teach their grandchild Alunt a few Oneida words. “Most of what we’ve taught him are simple phrases such as ‘come over here,’ ‘look here,’ ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye.’ It’s important for Alunt to hear us, his grandparents, speak to him in our Native language.”
The two also make sure to have tribal designs as their background when talking to their grandchild so that he can see the art and symbols important to their culture.
According to Greg, being more engaged with family and friends through technology made him feel happy, fulfilled, and less disconnected. Beyond Skype, he also uses Facebook to stay in contact with family and friends that don’t live nearby. Greg also plays computer games, watches online videos and listens to music to keep his brain active by learning new things.
In my observations, Skype can not only improve the wellbeing of our elders but also their children. This type of communication can fill the void when it comes to feeling lonely for family members when people move away from tribal communities. There is more joy in seeing the other person on the other line, and by utilizing technology people are taking the necessary steps to deal with loneliness or depression. So, in a sense, Skype can assist the healing process. Remember, don’t leave our elders behind. Teach them how to use technology, have a little patience, and then everyone can be connected.