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Maliseets open technology achievement center

Facility is first of its kind in the Northeast

HOULTON, Maine - Six weeks after the opening of the Maliseet Technology Achievement Center, the tribe's elders are enjoying access to word processing, e-mail, the Internet and the endless resources of the information superhighway.

A grand opening for the Maliseet Technology Achievement Center was held April 24 with a traditional ceremony at which the Four Winds drum welcomed community members, local dignitaries and representatives from the partner organizations that supported the project.

The center is a result of the Hope and Harmony for Humanity Initiative - a project to bring technology access and education to rural and low-income reservations. The initiative is funded by IBM, and includes the Interior Department Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development, the Native American Chamber of Commerce and SeniorNet, an international nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide older adults education for and access to computer technologies to enhance their lives and enable them to share their knowledge and wisdom.

''Education and training are keys to improving and empowering our people in order to build a better future,'' Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Chief Brenda Commander said during the opening ceremony.

The center will serve as a lab for free computer and Internet access, education and training for reservation residents of all ages. It will offer programs on health, cultural history and life biographies, genealogy, return to work/employment skills, tutoring, intergenerational programs, and a host of life skills and enrichment curricula. The system also includes an interactive Maliseet dictionary. Students will be able to use the center after school to do homework.

A special program will help bring the Maliseet tribal elders, most of whom have never used a computer, up to speed on computer skills and applications.

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''Right now, the elders are using it. We are teaching the elders to use the computers for eBay or just basic use. They were very excited about it at the opening,'' said Andrew Magnus, the tribe's systems administrator, who set up the center and oversees the technology aspect.

The center shares space with the tribe's housing authority. It features 10 new computers with the XP operating system and other equipment such as a projector and printers.

The center's staff is working out a schedule and ''a few particulars, such as who is going to be teaching what,'' Magnus said.

The center will be valuable for all the community members, and will likely be utilized a lot.

''It gives them the opportunity to access the latest in computer technology and also the achievement center has a broadband connection, and I know that a lot of people don't have that here because there's no DSL or cable modems out here and the only broadband was the Maliseet office. This gives them easier access to the Internet.''

The center is the fourth to be set up in the country and the only one in the Northeast.

The first opened at the Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Mont., Sept. 28, 2006. The next center opening was June 28, 2007, at the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in Cass Lake, Minn. The Tigua Achievement Center at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in El Paso, Texas, opened Aug. 21, 2007. A fifth center will open later this year.

SeniorNet is working to acquire additional funding to continue the program and build new centers.