Natives on the electronic frontier: Television and Acculturation on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation
Natives on the Electronic Frontier
In this paper, I will examine the question of the impact of television on the acculturation of indigenous people. Many anthropologists see television as a major causal force in the loss of indigenous culture. Through a research questionnaire, I surveyed 20 Lakota Sioux, and followed this up with unstructured interviews. They were questioned about their TV viewing habits and their interest and involvement in their own culture. I also conducted ethnographic interviews with other reservation residents on their perceptions of television. My findings suggest that TV does not play a role in acculturation of the Lakota people, and that it could even play a role in cultural preservation. This further suggests that anthropologists may need to revise some of their assumptions about technology’s effects on indigenous people.
KEYWORDS: Lakota, Sioux, television, technology, Internet, acculturation, cultural preservation, Cheyenne River
Many anthropologists and other academics have attempted to argue that the spread of technology is a global homogenizing force, socializing the remaining indigenous groups across the planet into an indistinct Western "monoculture" focused on consumption, where they are rapidly losing their cultural distinctiveness. In many cases, these intellectuals — people such as Jerry Mander - often blame the diffusion of television (particularly through new innovations that are allowing it to penetrate further into rural areas, such as satellite and cable) as a key force in the effort to "assimilate" indigenous groups and eradicate their unique identities. Such writers suggest that indigenous groups can do nothing to resist the onslaught of the technologically, economically, and aesthetically superior power of Western television. Ironically, while often protesting the plight of indigenous groups and heralding their need for cultural survival, these authors often fail to recognize these groups’ abilities to fend for themselves and preserve their cultural integrity.