Adam Fish M.A.

Center for Landscape & Artefact





Submitted for publication in Moving Images, Museums, Heritage Sites: Archaeology and National Contentions, edited by Peter Allen. University College of London Press, London.





Native Americans of the Columbia Plateau use the World Wide Web (WWW) to articulate their identities and histories. The phrase “indigenous digital media” (IDM) describes all forms of visual and aural media used by Native Americans to create, claim, and display their intellectual property in a digital environment.


Available with all WWW authoring software are options for video and sound. Digital aural/visual recording devices are increasingly affordable to tribal historic preservation programs on the Columbia Plateau. Emergent technologies are shaping the direction of tribal public history.


The Schitsu’umsh (Coeur d’Alene), the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation (CTUIR), and the Nimíipuu (Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho) create WWW multimedia modules dedicated to history, archaeology, environmental justice, language preservation, hypertext cartographies, and expressive arts (Coeur d’Alene 2002a, 2002b, 2002c, 2002d, 2002e, 2002f, 2002g, 2002h; Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation 2003; Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho 2001a, 2001b, 2001c, 2001d, 2001e) [i].


Within current tribal WWW modules, indigenous historiographical performance, indigenous digital media, and hypermedia archaeology are in trialogue. Each narration employs polysensuality, phenomenologies of travel, and interactivity to embrace the reader as a co-storyteller, networker, and author. Participants replace spectators. The communication tactic and content of these hypermedias undermine visual imperalism, linear histories, and scientific archaeology while claiming cyber-sovereignty for Columbia Plateau tribes in the “dot-commons” (Center for Digital Democracy 2005).


Schitsu’umsh tribalism and cyber-sovereignty


Tribalism is a contemporary cultural consolidation rooted in indigeneity. As social praxis, tribalism is a renaissance; an empowerment that emerges from perceived loss of traditional knowledge in the wake of colonization and modernity. In so many ways, tribalism is a reaction to the cultural dislocations and forced confederations incurred by 19th and 20th century modernism (McNickle 197). Unlike nationalism, tribalism has observable origins in geographically extant cultural traditions. A ‘tribe’ is a colonial construct. ‘Tribalism’ is rooted in tradition while affirming contemporary tribal identity (Mafeje 1971; Southall 1970). “Indigenous digital media” (IDM) is a vehicle for 21st century tribalism.


IDM offers new modes of historiography, biography, and archaeography in endeavors of tribalism. IDM presents, preserves, and projects traditional cultural values across the WWW. Tribalism is about resiliency and resurgence. IDM and tribalism conflate into an adaptive and resistant form of “innovative traditionalism” (Ginsberg 2002: 54). As tradition mixes with new media, participatory, polysensual, and narrative performances follow. Several 21st century tribalist projects are supported by IDM, including: claiming, storytelling, celebrating survivance, “indigenizing,” intervening, revitalizing, networking, representing, envisioning, reframing, naming, creating, and sharing (Smith 2001: 143-157).


Indigenous people embrace and exploit new communicative technologies to legislate for sovereignty in the control of their identities, histories, and representations. Throughout the world, indigenous peoples use videography to personalize, magnify, and vitalize the politics of survivance.


Indigenous people around the global


typically employ modern visual media to further public awareness of treaty rights, land claims, hunting and fishing rights, religious freedom, language preservation, repatriation of artifacts, and reburial of ancestral remains [Prims 2002: 62-64].


Indigenous people use video cameras and computers in


documenting traditional activities with elders; creating works to teach young people literacy in their own languages; engaging with dominant circuits of mass media and projecting political struggles through mainstream as well as alternative arenas; communicating among dispersed kin and communities on a range of issues; using video as legal documents in negotiating with states; presenting videos on state television to assert their presence televisually within national imaginaries; and creating award winning films [Ginsberg, Abu-Lughod, and Larkin 2002: 10].


The WWW module created by the Schitsu’umsh (Coeur d’Alene Tribe) illustrates the most salient uses of IDM. The Schitsu’umsh are a Columbia Plateau Native American tribe whose traditional territories have been in eastern Washington, north central Idaho, and western Montana since time immemorial. In 2002, the module was conceived, written, designed, and created by a committee of elders, tribal members, technology experts, and anthropologists under the aegis of the Lifelong Learning Online Project Committee. The module is the intellectual and physical property of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe[ii] (Coeur d’Alene Tribe 2002f: Setting the Stage: Acknowledgements and Review Process). Projects similar to the Schitsu’umsh module exist for the Umatilla (Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation 2003), and Nimíipuu (Nez Perce Tribe 2001a) who exercise comparative control over IDM production and content.[iii]


The Schitsu’umsh and Nimíipuu modules employ a wide range of medias, including video interviews, traditional songs, tribal dances[iv], oral mythologies, language lessons[v], linguistic translations, and interactive maps. The Schitsu’umsh, offering almost six hours of digital video, capitalize on the hypermedium to express their stories, histories, dances, perspectives, and arts in culturally specific ways. The Schitsu’umsh narrator’s “sincere desire” is to impart “Hnkhwelkhwlnet…our way of life in the world” to the participant so they may “better appreciate the world as if through Schitsu’umsh eyes” (Coeur d’Alene Tribe 2002h: Welcome to Schitsu'umsh Country).


Teachings on both traditional lifeways and contemporary politics appear throughout the Schitsu’umsh module. Viewers can learn about traditional gathering practices, spiritual concepts, and dancing forms. They can also see and hear the Schitsu’umsh Tribal Chairman meditate on the responsibility of the Schitsu’umsh to educate future generations. Figuring prominently are indigenous perspectives on tribal sovereignty including reflections on Manifest Destiny, missionaries, allotments, wars, the establishment of the Reservation, cultural resource management, and future challenges.


The narrator of the Schitsu’umsh module asks, “Why do the oral traditions offer you an indispensable and unique pathway into the lives and culture of the Schitsu'umsh people?” (Coeur d’Alene 2002a: Approaching the Oral Traditions: Preparations). It could be similarly asked, why is IDM a method analogous to oral traditions in this “unique pathway” to the Schitsu’umsh? For three reasons oral histories can be “effectively, appropriately, and authentically told using the Internet” (Frey 2001: 1): Digital multimedia is aural and visual. The viewer is a participant in creating non-sequential and personalized pathways through stories. And, most importantly, like archaeological sites in traditional territories, the intellectual information remains the product and property of the Schitsu’umsh, Nimíipuu, and the CTUIR (Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation 2003: The Umatilla, Walla Walla, & Cayuse).


On the Columbia Plateau, no historical analysis of the major brand of anthropological media that preceded IDM, the documentary ethnographic film, has ever been written (Fish 2004b). The ethnographic films depicting Columbia Plateau culture likely follow the trend exhibited on the Northwest Coast. The tribespeople are supporting characters as opposed to technologists and producers (Morris 1994). They are the objects, not the subjects, of the films. The modules created by Schitsu’umsh and Nimíipuu tribes represent the first emergence of indigenous moving-picture historiography on the Columbia Plateau.

polysensuality and the raconteur


Tribal history is “grounded in two interrelated systems of communication that predate the written word: drawing and speaking” (Howe 2003: 162). Vizenor agrees, “tribal narratives are heard and remembered in pictofictions and pictomyths without closure” (1994: 100). Traditional modes of communication were never textual. They are performative and oratory. Symbolic and iconographic drawing, painting, and etching were authoritative means of communication. The relationship between performer and participating audience was heavily emphasized by pictographic and performative modes. The hypermedia and emergent post-textuality of the WWW enables communications that are analogous to these traditional forms.


The WWW is a place for interactive performance. This bodes well for Native Americans, whose traditional form of historiography is performative. In the Native American past, major forms of communication were audio, haptical, visual, and performative. A non-textual people collectively remember historical events and origin narratives in oral traditions, landscapes, and embodied movements. Oral traditions and the WWW conflate the aural, visual, spatial, and corporeal.




performances exploited place, time, and other elements such as feasting, music, drumming, dancing and smoking to produce a multisensorial environment in which participants could experience with all their senses the historical moment. Conflating all trajectories containing sacred information and sensuality was intended to deeply encode traditional knowledge through the memory-etching powers of profound sensuality into the participants [Howe 2002: 166-167].


On the Columbia Plateau, raconteurs use multisensual tactics and the spectators are participants:


During the narrative performance, listeners periodically respond by saying aloud, i···! [ee!] ‘yes’ (Jacobs 1934-1937, 1:x; Teit 1912a: 349) or as among the Pend d’Oreille, giving the hand sign of hooking the index finger and drawing it toward you as a sign for ‘getting it’ (Clarence Woodcock, personal communication 1991) [Frey and Hymes 1998: 587].


The raconteur is dramatic, compelling, playful, and animate with intonation, pauses, gesture, rhythms, and references in a ritual performance (Frey and Hymes 1998: 594, 595, 598). In hypermedia archaeologies there are entrances, exits, dead-ends, thresholds, crises, incidents, interruptions, repetitions, discontinuities, incoherence, and integrations (Pearson and Shanks 2001: 125).


Howe continues,


Histories from an indigenous tribal perspective must be presented in a format that can accommodate multimedia data and structure it in a nonsequential order [2002: 167 emphasis mine].


Capable of being both multisensual and nonsequential, digital multimedia is suitable for a graphic and oratorical history (Howe 2002: 167). The WWW is one representational mode that has the capacity to transcend ocularcentric textuality and move towards an iconographic, speaking, participatory, and performative historiography.


Performers of tribal histories often depart from standard scripts—spontaneously fortifying their performances with anecdotes, asides, and commentary. More than whimsical digressions, these tangents modernize the traditional history by making them pertinent to contemporary people and the issues they face. A political problem, insight, passing raven, or wind gust may trigger the raconteur. A fugue results, integrating the traditional wisdom into the social present for the participating people. In this way, the story is publicly modified. This integrates the past inside the present, making new the traditional wisdom. As Vizenor explains,


In the oral tradition, the mythic origins of tribal people are creative expressions, original eruptions in time, not a mere recitation or a recorded narrative in grammatical time. The teller of stories is an artist, a person of wit and imagination, who relumes the diverse memories of the visual past into the expressions and metaphors of the present [Vizenor 1984:113].



The interpretive archaeologist is also a raconteur making “juxtapositions and interpenetrations of the historical and the contemporary, the political and the poetic, the factual and the fictional, the discursive and the sensual” (Pearson and Shanks 2001: 159). Open performativity, subject to adaptation in the present, is akin to the non-sequential digressions that are available to WWW participants.


While only a text resource at its inception in 1994, broadband and inexpensive digital visual and aural recorders accompany the WWW in some areas of the United States. In this move towards pictorial and performative media, the WWW, like tribal histories, is grounded in “drawing and speaking” (Howe 2003: 162). They are both integrative. Frey states that, “Should the ee’s cease, so too the story” (Frey 2001: 6). He correlates the vocal gesture “ee!” [i•••!] with the “clicking of the mouse to assure interactivity” (Frey 2001: 9). While the ‘click’ is more authoritarian, a new engagement emerges as the participant works with the raconteur through the non-human technological world (Haraway 1991, 1997). The IDM modules exhibit how traditional oral and performative tactics are made new.


The WWW offers tribal designers of digital histories a forum where ancestral communicative tactics can be curated and created. The WWW allows traditional historians to foray into the “dot-commons” without losing much semiotic or persuasive integrity (Center for Digital Democracy 2004). Tribes with a multimedia web-presence are creating historiography more akin to traditional forms than ever before.


between storyscapes and digital ecologies


In storyscapes, Nimíipuu ethnographer Archie Finney said in 1934, there is the  “feeling as a moving current all the figures and the relationships that belong to the mythbody” (Finney 1934: x in Frey and Hymes 1998: 595-596). One Colville elder always ends her stories by saying, “…and then I came back.” Participants travel with the raconteur. Life moves. A couple of lifelong students of Columbia Plateau mythology conclude, “each performance [is] different” (Frey and Hymes 1998: 599).


Tribal identity, like all social being, is in processual flux, making it a phenomenon difficult to quantify with static archaeological chronologies ill adapted to rationalize either mind or agency (Leone 1982; Dobres and Robb 2000). Vizenor explains, “tribal consciousness would be a minimal existence without active choices, the choices that are heard in stories and mediated in names; otherwise, tribal identities might be read as mere simulations of remembrance” (1994: 56). Between orations and communities, tribal identity adapts to the present. Stories form the vehicle for the embodiment and historiography of tribal identity, as it is and as it changes.


Travel is a recurring metaphor for storytelling and cyberculture. Columbia Plateau Native Americans speak of “traveling the trails and exploring a territory” or of “paddling a canoe on the rivers of the myth world” (Frey 2001: 6). We surf the ‘net. In both situations, “the human is enveloped within a dynamic and on-going text, a text in process, and thus within a world that is emerging, that is being brought forth, that is in the making” (Frey 2001: 6; see also Latour 1993).


The approach and vision of the viewer is of supreme concern to the Schitsu’umsh. They state that “how” one learns from a foreign culture is as important as “what” one learns (Coeur d’Alene 2002b: Approaching this Module: Pedagogy). This is a truth for the Schitsu’umsh and a trope of postmodernism. Schitsu’umsh capitalize on the different worldviews, effectively contrasting in the multimedia medium, between indigenous creator and participating viewer. They invite the participant to travel and make choices from an embodiment of hnkhwelkhwlnet, the Schitsu’umsh worldview. This interaction between self-examination and action creates the ecology for plurality, reflexivity, and the opportunity to travel on the First Peoples path.


According to Columbia Plateau history, the First Peoples lived before human people but prepared the world for the human people. A challenge of the Schitsu’umsh module is to “stay on the trails established by the First Peoples” (Coeur d’Alene 2002b: Approaching this Module: Pedagogy). The narrator warns that the viewers’ perspective may make it difficult to follow the First People. The narrator asks the viewer, “before you take a look at us take a closer look at yourself” (Coeur d’Alene 2002b: Approaching this Module: Pedagogy). So, while the environment of the WWW encourages visitors to exercise their discretion and liberty, the participant is challenged to follow the faint but extant trail of the First Peoples in the module. “Heart knowledge” as opposed to head knowledge, as Schitsu’umsh spiritual leader Cliff SiJohn articulates in three video clips, will help the viewer navigate the First Peoples’ trail (Cliff SiJohn, Coeur d’Alene 2002a: Approaching the Oral Traditions: Preparations). All of this reflexivity and introspection is designed to invite the viewer to be a participant in the Schitsu’umsh culture.


Traditional and digital communications share the metaphor of travel. The term “tamastslikt” means “interpretation” in the Umatilla’s Sahaptin dialectic. In a video clip, Martha Franklin uses the term “tamastslikt” to describe the journeyer’s path through the Umatilla module. Franklin says,  “tamastslikt, the word in itself, is an Indian word and it’s a full word, it doesn’t mean just to tell you what happened…So you need to come in here and to examine, to look to turn, to examine. And then the word becomes full” (Martha Franklin, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation 2003: The Umatilla, Walla Walla, & Cayuse). The word tamastslikt poses an open-ended and engaged hermeneutical method for approaching the Umatilla module. The multiple choices possible as one navigates the WWW help make the word and praxis of tamastslikt possible (Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation 2003: The Umatilla, Walla Walla, & Cayuse).


In a video clip from the Schitsu’umsh module, Cliff SiJohn, sitting near a sacred sweat lodge, instructs, “We have no books to give you, we have no pencils to hand out. What I want you to do is to sit back and open your heart” (Cliff SiJohn, Coeur d’Alene 2002a: Approaching the Oral Traditions: Preparations). Franklin of the Umatilla and SiJohn of the Schitsu’umsh, and raconteurs in general, request that the participant be available and curious. This request is particularly possible to reply to on WWW modules that enable visitors to explore diverse, multisensual paths with personalized, multilinear connections.


The material culture of the print-based text creates hegemonies of chronological and linear historiography tending to a similarly monological phenomenology for readers, something that is undermined by postprocessual archaeologists (Tilley 1994), New Western historians (Limerick 1987, 2001; White 1991, 1995;), indigenous archaeologists (Nicholas 2001, 2003, 2004), and site-specific artists (Kaye 2000). Viewers of WWW modules are encouraged to choose from a range of adventures amongst tribally designed sites and fields. Personally mediated links and relationships are created on the WWW. These links allow the connection of disparate subjects and non-temporal movement through history as participants link from text-to-video-to-audio-to-animation. Participants select amongst a heterogeneous yet organized ecology of “sites.” Barthes describes hypertext when he writes,


the networks are many and interact, without any of them being able to surpass the rest, this text is a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds, it has no beginning, it is reversible, we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively claimed to be the main one [1975: 5 in Olsen 1990: 185].


Time and space are obsolete. Atemporal horizontal palimpsests are explored in the production of experiential history.


hypermedia archaeology


Archaeology is a storytelling craft (Joyce 2002: 17). Some forms of postprocessual archaeology stress the role of archaeologist as raconteur. The targets of fieldwork and representation of these archaeologies are intertextuality, heteroglossia, polyphony, and multvocality (Bakhtin 1981, 1984; Joyce 2002: 10, 11, 75; Kristeva 1986). Like traditional oration and performance, postprocessual archaeography benefits from the polyvocality of hypermedia (Lopiparo and Joyce 2003: 194). In the IDM modules as in hypermedia archaeology, “the reader chooses to follow particular links, he or she creates a unique juxtaposition of primary data and secondary analyses shaping an experience that, while constrained by the sources, is irreducibly unique” (Lopiparo and Joyce 2003: 194). While “irreducibly unique” is presumptuous and experiments in hypermedia archaeology are rare, digital technologies and dialogic theories benefit the assembling of literary, artifactual, and historical elements under the aegis of the archaeological. In these productions, archaeology will look more like the network of features in a highly stratified excavation profile or the Schitsu’umsh module than a technical cultural resources management report:


And in this archaeological cyborg world we will have to talk a great deal of ‘might and ‘if’, of slippages and fluidity, of mess and what is missing, of gaps and bridges between different worlds, of time breaking up, moments lost and regained. We will need our dramaturgical imagination [Pearson and Shanks 2001: 101].


Hypermedia allows us to perceive and produce replications that model both the physicality and phenomenology of the archaeological.


With emphasize remaining ocularcentric, the WWW is a tool that is more participatory than the printed text. This is coterminous with the evanescence of traditional storytelling and the archaeological field act. Joyce encourages archaeologists to conceive of their work as an analog of the storyteller’s craft (2002). It might not be premature to invite the phrase “blurred genre” to describe the character of IDM, hypermedia archaeology, and oral traditions (Tilley 1994: 1). In IDM, hypermedia archaeology, and oral traditions there is a blending of memory techniques, spatial linkages, and polysensual representation. Temporality in all three epistemologies is networked into multilinear and personalized experiences. These practices are not limited to alphabetical texts and static illustrations.


IDM eclipses the ocularcentrism and textuality of academic and professional archaeological representation. The participatory ethos, as opposed to the spectatorism of televised media, is unique to WWW media and ancient performance. The tribes are some of the first indigenous people to exploit the WWW to communicate more organically and they are uniquely prepared by immemorial years of practice to perform their knowledge in this medium of the present.

sacred times and places in cyberspace


The Schitsu’umsh narrator states, “In the act of storytelling the creation time is re-witnessed and re-traveled, and brought forth into this time. The stories that occurred in a distant past are continued into the present” (Coeur d’Alene 2002a: Approaching the Oral Traditions: Preparation). The Nimíipuu narrator states, “In the act of re-telling these ancient accounts, and especially when told in the Nimíipuu language, the listeners are made participants of the unfolding events” (Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho 2001d: Oral Traditions Along the Clearwater and Snake Rivers). Cliff SiJohn says to the WWW viewer, “it is time for you to listen, sit back, prepare yourself for you are going to take a walk with the Coeur d’Alene Indian people through the real world of the Indian people” (Cliff SiJohn, Coeur d’Alene 2002a: Approaching the Oral Traditions: Preparation). If the WWW can coax visitors to re-witness the “creation time…through the real world of the Indian people” what of the specificity of place and time emphasized in Columbia Plateau oral traditions?


The Schitsu’umsh explain: “the accounts of Coyote and all the meanings and significances, all the teachings, are thus embedded in the river beds and mountain ridges” (Coeur d’Alene Tribe 2002e: Heart Knowledge: Listening to the Ancestors). Native American history is not a portable paper book that can be read or experienced anywhere. Columbia Plateau Native American histories consist of inter-personal engagements with landscapes mediated by story. Tribal histories are told in specific places and times and utilize particular environmental elements to enhance the transmission and retention of cultural information. If it is true that culturally significant physical landscapes perform an indispensable communicative function, WWW modules naturally fail to facilitate the crucial conditions under which cultural information is transmitted.


The concept of place constitutes the primary difference between tribal and digital histories. The spatiality of the WWW may oppose the topocentrism of traditional performance[vi]. The WWW has no allegiance to certain places or times, the same content can be viewed anywhere in the world at all hours. The WWW is everywhere and nowhere - but access to it is very specific. Sophisticated technologies, network access, and technical skills are required. When these elements converge the WWW is a portal to cyberspace. On the Columbia Plateau, sacred space and time emerges from the careful mix of sophisticated body and speech technologies, producing “portals to the sacred” (Walker 1991). The raconteur is the WWW connection, as it were, to an indigenous sacred/cyberspace.


This problem of sacred place in cyberspace can be triangulated through an alternative reading of Schitsu’umsh time and spatiality. The Schitsu’umsh narrator states, “ the way the Schitsu’umsh relate to “‘time’ and ‘space’ and ‘causation’ differs considerably” (Coeur d’Alene 2002b: Approaching this Module: Pedagogy). Native American autobiographical narratives focus on a communal or relational identity and tend to be cyclical rather than lineal” (Vizenor 1994: 100). In WWW modules, time, space, and causation are convoluted, inverted, and multilinear. Circular phenomenologies of time are available in WWW journeys and by traditional Columbia Plateau peoples. Weblinks afford opportunities to transcend the rigid order of place and time. The multimedia and hypertextuality of the WWW creates an environment in which tribal historiographies can adapt to the changing communicative modalities of today and in the future. Essentially, “mythology is passing from a ritual act…–from a mythology traveled, within oneself and one’s world to a mythology viewed, in speech on the page” (Frey and Hymes 1998: 598).


The Schitsu’umsh module participant travels, if they so choose, with elder Felix Aripa to the era when the First People were creating the canyons, waterfalls, outcrops, and mountains of the Columbia Plateau. The signatures left by Beaver’s tail, Raven’s talons, and Bluejay’s beak are sacrosanct and remade in ritual performance. The WWW and oral traditions subvert, expand, and obliterate the experience of time, rewarding the participant with attendant transcendence. Native American storytelling and their audiences utilize, but essentially overcome, the gross boundaries of time, place, and convention to create a spiritual ecology, which, in its most exquisite forms, is cosmically moral and meta-reflexive.


IDM on the WWW is demanding new concepts for the relationship between oral traditions and specific places. Schitsu’umsh are innovatively using IDM to solve geo-social problems. Using Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), the Schitsu’umsh create hypertext cartographies consisting of audio, video, and photographic data connected to interactive digital maps (Coeur d’Alene 2002c: Cultural Preservation: GIS Names-Place Project). The Kootenai-Salish, neighbors to the Schitsu’umsh, have a similar cartographic program (Chris Horsethief, personal communication 2003; John Sirois, personal communication 2004).


Schitsu’umsh elder Felix Aripa, of a handful of speakers the most knowledgeable of Schitsu’umsh language, is optimistic about hypertext cartography and IDM. Linking indigenous language to sacred and gathering localities with digital technology fuses language and landscape, to the best of our technical abilities. In their endeavors in hypertext cartography, the Schitsu’umsh have gathered 35 hours of video, 30 hours of audio, and 1500 photographs from fieldwork at 130 traditional cultural properties (TCPs). This labor represents the most comprehensive IDM project on the Columbia Plateau, and certainly one of the largest in Native America.


Hypertext cartographies appear interactive and three dimensional on the monitor. As the viewer clicks on a particular location on the map, information about a gathering place visited as a youth, for example, or a prehistoric harpooning station “drops down [with] up to three or four perspectives that might include a story told by an elder in both Coeur d'Alene and English, a history, as well as the site's videos and slides” (Coeur d’Alene Tribe 2002c: Cultural Preservation: GIS Names-Place Project).


This is a description of the most complex form of interactivity possible in indigenous hypertext cartography and a most sophisticated use of IDM in the service of tribalism. Certainly a “deep map” (McLucas 2004), this technology represents a place’s presence on all fronts, personally and positively, accurately and detailed. IDM is a living adjunct to and eventual underminer of the hegemony of descriptive archaeological and TCP reporting.

visual imperialism and the virtually performative


The current relief from visual imperialism afforded to indigenous peoples by the web may be phantasmagoric, and the “virtual performative” alone will not overturn their subaltern positions in the political arena [Prims 2002: 72].


The tribal modules example how narrative histories vie with dominator historiographies (Bakhtin 1981) and use extant communication systems to undermine domination. Tribes are long experienced in resisting the control of their cultural images and likely see the WWW as an open space in which to grow and affirm their tribalism. The post-textual tribalist methodology is to


undermine and surmount, with imagination and the performance of new stories, the manifest manners of scriptural simulations and “authentic” representations of the tribes in the literature of dominance [Visenor 1994: 17].


Prims’s taunt is noteworthy. IDM will not “overturn” the marginalization of Native Americans but, like the advent of tribal newspapers, radio, television, and film, it is a crucial advancement of tribal media sovereignty. The IDM modules expand the jurisdiction of intellectual property rights and “undermine” false “authenticity” by presenting official public histories. The value of media sovereignty increases as social engagement becomes more informational.


The most relevant metaphor to discuss performance archaeology, dialogic literature, and subvertising art is no longer the bricolage  of structuralism (Tilley 1990: 27) but the erosion of poststructualism. Living surface structures discombobulate, subsurface anthroposols and artifacts scatter and rearticulate on the undercut beach. By using the dot-commons as a place to rearticulate their history, the Schitsu’umsh offer an alternative, undermining the imperialist code of living.


The democratic idealism of the WWW oscillates between flashes and dims. As government and corporate control recedes and expands (Electronic Frontier Foundation 2004), the WWW remains a postcolonial platform for those who have access to web-production, viewing, and a tribalist project. While the elite control of the WWW is expanding, the dot-commons exists as an attainable ideal for cyberspace democracy, despite certain threats.


The WWW poses new challenges for indigenous intellectual property rights. Information can be distributed, reinterpreted, and exploited out of context on the WWW. Identity politics affect cultural and economic prosperity in Indian Country. The Schitsu’umsh drafted an intellectual property rights agreement giving them complete control over the module, its direction, and existence, now and into the future (Coeur d’ Alene 2002g: Setting the Stage: Cultural Property Rights Agreement). It is technically impossible to copy either text or pictures from the module. The production of IDM, in consortium with elders and new media producers, while working under comprehensive intellectual property rights agreements, strikes an exquisite balance for indigenous people who claim a place in the dot-commons, control its territorial boundaries, and invigorate the multicultural liminal. The modules claim and defend indigenous identities in cyberspace.


For over a century, Angloamerican anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians have mediated Columbia Plateau Native American cultural content with direct funding from the U.S. federal government (Fish 2005). This work, usually salvage archaeology and salvage ethnography, done to standards of the day, have profound political implications today, as witnessed by the power of the Indians Claims Commission, by setting restrictive trends in methodology, content, form, temporal depth, and geospatial breadth. Traditional people are offended by the publicizing of incorrect, sacred, and private content in these technical reports, interpretive ethnographies, and romanticized films.


Bureaucratic, militaristic, legal, and scientific historiography informed Native American archaeology through the 19th and 20th centuries (Kehoe 1998; and Patterson 1995). On the Columbia Plateau in the 20th century, from 1933-1975, ‘science’ excavated village and burial grounds before the floods of reservoirs from electricity producing dams seriously disturbed tribal subsistence and identity (Anonymous circa 1939; Collier Hudson, and Ford 1942; Crane 2002; Dickson 1998; Fielder 1979; Frank 1948; Fryxell and Keel 1969; Hicks 2004; Krieger 1927; Nez Perce Tribe 1998; Perry 1939; Robert 1948; Sprague and Birkby 1970).


Every one of these archaeological reports defined Native American culture as static, incremental, evolutionary, geo-biological, ecologically determined, and to the exclusion of all things, functional –usually only with rocks (Ames 1985; Bense 1972; Butler 1965; Chatters, 1989; Hicks 2004; Lohse and Sammons-Lohse 1986; Reid 1991a; Sappington 1994; Swanson 1962; see Fish 2004a for detailed critique). In 2005, on the Columbia Plateau, a thousand archaeological reports will be written confirming that the Native American past was cognitively non-existent/absent-minded, and, while redundant for over 6000 years, not affiliated with prehistoric peoples of such antiquity (Gould 2004, Jeldirks 2002). Indigenous digital media undermine previous texts, films, research paradigms, and old archaeologists.


 References Cited


Ames, K.M.

1985  Hierarchies, Stress and Logistical Strategies among Hunter-gatherers in Northwestern North America. In Prehistoric Hunter-gatherers: The Emergence of Cultural Complexity, edited by T.D. Price and J.D. Brown. Academic Press, New York.



circa 1939  Rising Waters Will Ruin Cemeteries-- Columbia River Areas to be Submerged Are Being Cleared and New Sites are Located. Newspaper clipping on file at the Spokane Public Library, Northwest Room, Spokane, WA.


Bakhtin, M. M.

1981  The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by Mikhail Bakhtin, edited by Michael Holoquist. University of Texas Press, Austin.


Barthes, Roland

1975  S/Z. Hill and Wang, New York.


Bense, Judith A.

1972  The Cascade Phase:  A Study in the Effect of the Altithermal on a Cultural System. Ph.D. dissertation, Washington State University, Pullman.


Bourdieu, Pierre

1991  Language and Symbolic Power, Edited by John B. Thompson. Polity Press Cambridge.


Butler, B. Robert

1965  The Structure and Function of the Old Cordilleran Culture Concept. American Anthropologist 67(5): 1120-1131.




Carey, Frank

1948 ‘Pick and Shovel Brigade’ Digs into Basin Areas and U.S. Past. Wenatchee Daily World 30 September: 13.


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The author must thank Ian Harris, Sven Ouzman, Stanley Krippner, Brad Garrett, and Rodney Frey for their edit and ideas. Michael Shanks supplied a reference.


About the Author

Adam Fish, MA, Executive Director, Center for Landscape & Artefact (

areas of specialization: indigenous archaeology, postcolonialism, iconography, critical theory, advocacy cinema, digital media, performance, music subcultures

geographies: Columbia Plateau, Pacific Northwest, Native American reservations in the West, Southwest, Yucatan, West Coast urban

narrative: I am an anthropologist, historian, and writer on Western American culture. My training is in the analysis of material culture and the practice of historic preservation in indigenous contexts. My primary interest is the indigenist turn in contemporary ethnographic media, specifically the uses of digital media in projects of self-representation and the advocacy of tribal sovereignty. I also study aural performance as an alternative and adjunct to the text

More biographical information: /cla_adam.htm



[i] This text represents only the interpretations and observations of its author. This book chapter has not been reviewed or endorsed by any of the exampled tribes. Before citing me as a secondary author, please consult the page you are citing and the Coeur d’Alene Tribal review process


[ii] The Schitsu’umsh are politically and legally known as the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.


[iii] The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes also participate in IDM. Their information is not on the WWW, instead there are over one hundred films, presentations, lessons, and footage that individuals can check out for educational purposes. Those that can be purchased include myths and films designed to teach traditional language (Confederated Tribes of the Salish and Kootenai 2004). The Colville just made a film on Kettle Falls using digital technologies and plan to produce another in 2005 (Confederated Colville Tribes 2004).


[iv] Technicalities are considered from the viewer’s perspective. In the ten videos depicting powwow dancing, the slower 28k connection is not offered so as not to distort the dancing, instead a 512k connection is offered so the viewer can acquire a more accurate experience (Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho 2001e: To Sing and Dance in the Present).


[v] With the ease of a click, it is possible to hear the pronunciation of major consonants, vowels, and phrases. With the advent of broadband across the Coeur d’Alene reservation this will give, to anyone interested, access to traditional language instruction. Schitsu’umsh off the Reservation can access the website, hear the native language and the traditional teachings. For the advanced student there exist ample possibilities to practice with Felix Aripa as he raps in Schitsu’umsh about Coyote and his friends. On a video clip on the Nimíipuu module, Horace Axtell, in Nimíipuutimptneewit, the Nez Perce Sahaptian dialect, tells of an account of the origin of Hells Canyon and Seven Devils mountains in the Snake River of Idaho. (Nez Perce Tribe 2001: Cultural Preservation: Language Program; Language Program and Some Lessons)


[vi] Perhaps this is why, on the Nimiipuu module, there is no section on “geography.” According to the Nimiipuu, “‘geography’… [is] thoroughly integrated throughout the Nimíipuu way of life (Nez Perce Tribe 2001: Geography). Concepts of place, therefore, cannot be divided from the phenomenal world and dissected.