‘We're Making a Difference in People's Everyday Lives’ on Umatilla Reservation, Ore.

with Debra Croswell of Cayuse Native Solutions

Indigenous Americans in rural areas say limited resources create barriers to digital access and skills. Debra Croswell, Executive Managing Director of Cayuse Native Solutions, joins Dara Brown at Net Inclusion 2024 in Philadelphia. Efforts are underway to bridge the digital divide for the tribal community residing on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon.

Croswell shares the impact of the work: “We're making a difference in people's everyday lives, whether they need a laptop to go to college or go to school. Or they may be just a tribal elder who wants to know how to better use their mobile phone.”

Posted on:

March 29, 2024

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Brown: Indigenous Americans in Indian country face challenges accessing technology, including lack of access to high-speed internet and lack of resources to obtain digital devices. Hello. I'm Dara Brown. This is "Getting Connected" powered by "Comcast Newsmakers." We're here today at the Net Inclusion 2024 Conference in Philadelphia. We acknowledge we stand on the ancestral lands of the Lenape Peoples, also known as the Lenni Lenape. Joining me to talk about bridging the digital divide in Native communities is Debra Croswell, President and Executive Managing Director of Cayuse Native Solutions. Debra, thank you so much for being here.

Croswell: Thanks, Dara, for having me.

Brown: So, what are some of the challenges facing Native American communities with accessing technology?

Croswell: Well, a lot of our community members who grew up on the reservation have limited resources. We have a somewhat high unemployment rate. I would say about 12 to 14% is where we're at now. So, a lot of people are facing employment challenges. They don't have all the skills they need to enter certain workforces, so. And then just accessing good broadband. We have limited good broadband out in our rural area. So, we've been having a program that we have been funded through the National Digital Inclusion Alliance to help us bridge that divide. And we bring devices to our community members who need them, such as laptops or tablets. We help them access digital skills and improve their digital skills. And we help them access affordable broadband. Those are our three main areas that we're focusing on.

Brown: And how is your organization actually affecting the community?

Croswell: Well, we're making a difference in people's everyday lives, whether they need a laptop to go to college or go to school or they may be just a tribal elder who wants to know how to better use their mobile phone. So, our digital navigator is -- his name is Leo. And he goes out in the community several times a month and has public office hours at our Senior Center and at our Tribal Clinic and at our Tribal Governance Center. And, so, he has -- is able to have people drop in there and he can help them with whatever they need. And there's one tribal elder who's come back multiple times because he tells Leo, "This is fun, I'm having fun," and, you know, learning how to use his phone. And he'll just sit there with Leo and Leo is able to kind of show him just different things, how to use his mobile phone. So, he just keeps coming back. He's kind of our return customer.

Brown: Can you tell us about your successes and how you hope to build on them moving forward?

Croswell: Well, in our first year, we have served about 120 people on our reservation. And that may sound like a small number, but on a small reservation where you have a total of 3,000 people residing, we think we're having a big impact and we're trying to raise awareness about what digital equity is and what digital inclusion is. And we're trying to raise awareness about Leo's role as the digital navigator and what that means. So, I think in our first year that was a lot of what we did was just kind of build that awareness, let the community know we're here, here's what we're doing. And, so, now as we enter our second year of the program, we're hoping that we can continue to use word of mouth, but also continue to use digital media. We do a lot of social media and outreach to our community that way to just continue building and helping more people in our second year.

Brown: Debra Croswell, thank you so much for your time.

Croswell: Thank you, Dara, for having me.

Brown: And thanks to you as well for watching. For more conversations about digital equity and broadband expansion, visit gettingconnected.com. I'm Dara Brown.

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