Grandmas on Facebook: Closing the digital divide on the Leech Lake Reservation

Last week I was on the road with the Blandin Foundation visiting MIRC communities. We stopped in a number of places, including the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Temporary Employment Program. Through MIRC funding, the TEP developed a number of projects, including a computer center and access to digital literacy programs. I have written about the program before – the quick take is that TEP participants now have the opportunity to take digital literacy classes as part of the service that is offered. The lab is also open to other community users.

This visit we talked about the folks who come to visit the lab outside of the TEP participants. People walk to the lab, drive to the lab and sometimes the dedicated Program Director (Janice Gale) gets a van to shuttle users to the lab. She has done that to bring elders to the lab where they have learned to use computers through digital literacy training lessons (also developed through MIRC funding). It is very basic and starts with the assumption that the user has no experience with computer and apparently it’s a very good fit with the elders.

It was also fun to hear about how folks are being trained for better jobs – but it was a story told by Mike Jones that caught my attention. He said that one thing he learned through the program was that his grandmother was on Facebook. Mike made the point that with tools such as Facebook more people (especially older people) are interested in getting online because it is a connection back to family. His grandmother lives out of state, but is now able to connection with generations of her family.

I think Mike’s observation – that everyone wants to get online – struck me because the day earlier I had heard Jack Geller speak about the segment of the population who will never be interested in adopting broadband. It just seems like there’s room for a couple big pushes to get more people to adopt. That may require getting a van and shuttling people to the computer center, or getting their grandkids to friend them on Facebook, but I left the TEP more hopeful.

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Ann Treacy's picture
Ann Treacy

Ann Treacy lives in the Twin Cities. For work, she writes about broadband in Minnesota. After hours she write about travels and adventures around town.