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'Digital Village' grants go to 17 San Diego County tribes

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Computer giant Hewlett-Packard awarded an annual $5 million, three-year "Digital Village" grant to 17 San Diego County American Indian tribes, the largest grant given by the company to an American Indian group

Purpose of the grant is to gain greater tribal access to Internet from their homes, offices and schools.

Only three applicants were chosen from more than 200 proposal submissions this year. The other recipients were non-profit entities in Baltimore and East Palo Alto near San Francisco.

The award is the result of the efforts by several San Diego County entities. Representing the tribes is a non-profit association called the Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association with representatives from each of San Diego County's 17 tribes.

Jack Ward, director of human resources for the Chairmen's Association, helped to write the grant and bring the tribal communities together on the proposal. He said he believes the grant will bring the peoples of the disparate communities closer together.

San Diego County is a good model on which to base this kind of project, Ward says, pointing out that the grant will provide challenges in a microcosm applicable worldwide.

"We're not only dealing with the rugged terrain of San Diego County, but also 17 different tribal governments as well as a host of local organizations that were involved. The company (Hewlett-Packard) was intrigued by this notion and when they saw the level and depth of community involvement they saw this as a prime opportunity," Ward says.

Several local groups also were involved in writing the proposal including the University of California, San Diego, and some local school districts. The project will benefit these organizations though the primary focus will be the American Indian tribes.

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Many of the particulars have not been worked out yet. Hewlett-Packard sources say a company executive will be named to help organize the effort. Infrastructure and existing programs will have to be examined to determine the best course of action.

Bess Stevens, director of philanthropy at Hewlett-Packard says a full-time, local San Diego area company employee will then be appointed as a consultant. Company volunteers will come in to help as needed. Stevens will handle the site review of the project for the company during the implementation phase.

Though there is no specific timetable for the project as yet, the ultimate goal is to get computers not just into tribal offices and halls, but in the hands of individual families and into the schools.

Since many reservations lack phone lines and other necessary items the grant will attempt to install the latest state-of-the-art equipment including a wireless network which allows computers to pick up an Internet signal from relay antennas instead of standard telephone lines.

Lack of infrastructure is actually a plus for many of the tribes. Creating a new infrastructure will allow them to "leapfrog" over previous technologies and not burden tribes with a tangled Web requiring an update. Instead, to use computer jargon, it will be a "clean install."

A few San Diego County tribes have received a grant from the National Science Administration to create a wireless network, including the Pala reservation. Since many of the ultimate goals of the two grants overlap there is uncertainty about how they will work together.

Sources at the University of California, San Diego, who are working on the National Science Administration grant, say they do not know how the projects will be coordinated yet but confirm that talks are scheduled to attempt to work out an agreement.

Rebecca Robbway, who works in the press relations department for Hewlett-Packard says grant winners are chosen on several criteria, the most important being leadership, economic disadvantage and potential partners who could help to implement the plan.

The communities receiving the grant are allowed to create and control their own blueprint for placing the plan in action. The tribes can use the computers to further cultural and economic opportunities for their members.