Tulalip TV, NWIN go online.

Webcasts could become 'voice of empowerment' for indigenous communities

By Richard Walker -- Today correspondent

TULALIP, Wash. - Getting television programs from and about Indian country is now as easy as opening a browser window and clicking a mouse button.

KANU-TV, Channel 99 on the Tulalip Reservation, is now video-streaming television programs from throughout Indian country at www.kanutv.com and hopes to include more indigenous coverage from throughout the world.

The online programming not only makes Tulalip television programming accessible to tribal members not living on the reservation, it also makes Indian country programming available to a worldwide audience.

Anyone with a computer and Internet access can watch programs produced by the Tulalip Tribes Communications Department: ''Discover Tulalip,'' ''Tulalip Heritage Hawks Basketball,'' ''Lushootseed Language Video Series,'' ''Tulalip History Series'' and Tulalip General Manager Shelly Lacy's weekly report.

In addition, KANU-TV Online videostreams NorthWest Indian News, an award-winning program covering Native events, news and people in the Pacific Northwest; Native Report, a production of WDSE-TV in Duluth, Minn., funded in part by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; and Native Nation Building, a production of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy.

The service was launched in October by Tulalip Tribes Communications Department staff, led by chief editor and webmaster Roger Vater.

Vater had been researching the best way to bring KANU-TV programs into as many households as possible. With the advance of Internet technology, Vater's research showed the best way was to have KANU-TV available on ''everyone's computer, via webcast.''

Vater consulted John Mortenson of Think-A-Tron Media, which does digital media training, and Aaron Booker of Hardlines Co., which specializes in network design and has done webcasts for Fortune 500 companies as well as touring bands in eight countries.

''The first reason we decided to do this real-time webcasting is because many of our Tulalip tribal members don't live on the reservation and don't have access to Tulalip Broadband [formerly Tulalip Cablevision],'' Vater said.

''The Native programming that we've been creating and acquiring is important and educational to the Tulalip community, but also we're producing programs that have a reach beyond Tulalip. NorthWest Indian News, which our department produces, is being seen from Alaska to New Mexico by over a million viewers. NWIN deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.''

NWIN news director Jim Browder is also chief photographer for KVOS-TV in Bellingham. He said KANU-TV Online is ''alone at the tip of the technology spearhead'' in providing online programming.

Browder said he was in his office at KVOS and had a TV program and KANU-TV Online running side by side. ''That's the future of television,'' he said of the webcast. ''It's high quality with no digital artifacts.'' (Digital artifacts are visible defects in a digital photo or video picture, such as loss of edge clarity and tone fuzziness.)

Online programming is also less expensive than traditional broadcast TV - a fact that may be more evident once a new federal law takes effect Feb. 17, 2009.

On that date, all TV broadcast stations will be required to switch from analog to digital format. Congress mandated the conversion to all-digital TV broadcasting because all-digital broadcasting will free up frequencies for public safety communications (such as police, fire and emergency rescue). Also, digital is a more efficient transmission technology that allows broadcast stations to offer improved picture and sound quality, as well as offer more programming options for consumers through multiple broadcast streams.

In addition, some of the freed-up frequencies will be used for advanced commercial wireless services for consumers.

But conversion to all-digital will be costly and, for many stations, the law may hasten a less-costly conversion to webcasting.

''I think we'll see critical mass within 10 years,'' Browder said. ''The fastest-growing area of growth in television is the Internet. The under-25s are watching newscasts on their iMacs.''

Webcasting can be, in Browder's words, ''a major voice of empowerment for all of Indian country'' and indigenous populations throughout the world - an estimated 300 million of a total world population of 6.6 billion. (You can watch Maori Television online at www.maoritelevision.com.)

Browder said NWIN's online broadcasts should give a boost to efforts by NWIN and Native American Television to build a single nationwide Native channel. Native American Television, or NATV, provides multimedia technology training to Native students and produces cultural programs for TV, radio, podcast and webcast.

NATV wants to replicate NWIN by creating a nationwide network of trained news reporters and media technicians to provide news and information from Indian country communities.

NATV board members include John Echohawk, Pawnee, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund; Joe Garcia, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, president of the National Congress of American Indians; and Natalie Charley, Quinault, a marketing and public relations consultant who also serves on the Potlatch Fund board of directors.

''They have a board comprised of anyone who's anyone in Indian country,'' Browder said. ''That says something about NATV.''

While the Internet is making it easier for KANU-TV to broaden its audience, it could also mean optional programming providing by a growing field of webcasters. But Vater isn't worried about competition.

''I don't care, as long as the stories get out there.''

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at rmwalker@rockisland.com.