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Yakima and Colville tribes will establish separate tech centers

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YAKIMA, Wash. ? Currently there is only one community computer for the entire Yakama Nation. It sits off by itself in a lonely corner of the tribal public library.

Thanks to a university rural outreach plan, that computer will not be lonely for long.

The Yakama and Colville tribes, in conjunction with the University of Washington, have received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish Community Technology Centers on each reservation.

"The opportunities made possible by Community Technology Centers are critical to the continued health and vitality of our state's tribal communities," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a longtime advocate for tribal technology.

In total the two reservations will receive nearly half a million dollars for one year of operation. These centers are part of a rural outreach done by the Seattle-based University of Washington to help rural communities bridge what is known as the "digital divide."

Robert Ozuna, director of the University of Washington's Yakima Valley Community Partnership, said the technology center at Yakama will be set up in the library where that sole existing computer is.

That entire corner of the library will be turned into a full-fledged computer center which will house 20 stationary computers. An additional 10 laptops with wireless Internet connections will be available from the library circulation desk. Ozuna said he is not certain what kinds of computers will be installed, but said they will be IBM compatible machines.

Fortunately the tribe recently installed a fiber optic system on the reservation that allows the computers to use the Internet at a high rate of speed and will allow the wireless laptops full Internet connections.

Ozuna reported that the idea for funding the grant came through the rural partnership efforts between Yakama and the University of Washington. The university has advisory members in several different communities and Ozuna was sent out to Yakama to help determine what would be of the most use to the tribe and what grant funding would best serve its members.

It was determined that both Yakama and Colville severely lacked technology resources and the university assisted the tribes to secure grants through the U.S. Department of Education.

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Lisa True, the grant writer on the Colville project, said that the grants were highly competitive and it was an honor for the tribes to be recipients. Of nearly 1,300 applications only 30 ultimately were granted.

"The University of Washington was invaluable in the assistance for us getting this grant," True said.

A facility manager will be hired and there will be training programs for Yakama tribal members from nearby Heritage College which will assist the university and the tribe in design and implementation of the Technology Center.

"While we have lots of computers and classes available on our Toppenish and Yakima campuses, we are very happy to partner in an outreach effort which will bring computers and training closer to the members of the Yakama Nation and surrounding towns," Heritage College President Dr. Kathleen Ross said.

Because of the new computer center, the Yakama tribe will receive electronic commerce training from Electronic Commerce Assistance Group, a former defense sub-contractor with the federal government which has worked with several tribes, including those on the Pine Ridge (S.D.) and Wind River (Wyo.) reservations to provide technical training for government-related electronic business.

Donna Kirpatrick is helping to coordinate the effort with Yakama for the group. She said that after Congress decided to halt funding, the Bremerton, Wash., branch, originally one of 17 branches, decided its work was not done.

"There was just this great need within tribal communities to continue the work that we were doing, so we decided to try and keep the company together by sub-contracting through another source," Kirkpatrick said.

The company sought assistance from Concurrent Technologies, a local electronic business corporation, which contracted with them to continue work with American Indian tribes.

Kirkpatrick said the company will hold six sessions to cover several facets of electronic business, including how to design electronic catalogues, Web page design and e-business opportunities and marketing.

The Department of Education Grant is an annual grant and the tribes expect it to begin in December and to have their respective computer centers up and operating that same month.

Yakama Nation librarian Colleen Veomett said the grant has the potential to open up many opportunities for tribal members. "Many people do not know that we exist. This technology will help us expose children and adults to our library resources and provide access to computer technology at no cost to them."