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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 9, 2003 - Issue 93


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MIT Students Bring .com Pizzazz to Rez

by Larry Di Giovanni Gallup Independent
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HARDROCK CHAPTER — Combine the talents of about 20 Hardrock Chapter youths with two soon-to-be sophomores from MIT, and the Web site creation possibilities are wondrous.

Anna Bershteyn and Kaia Dekker came to the Navajo Nation this summer straight from the famed engineering school's hallowed grounds in Cambridge, Mass., to help Carol Halberstadt, a fellow easterner from Newton, Mass., improve her Churro wool-buying coop's Web site, www. The successful wool buy was held June 20-21 with 3,500 pounds of wool bought.

But Bershteyn and Dekker also had another set of plans in mind when they came out to Hardrock to live with Halberstadt in a spacious hogan. They entailed installing MIT's donation of a dozen PC-type computers at the chapter, then training youths how to create simple yet rewarding Web work. The two collegians have also been offering adults from the area one-on-one computer literacy tutorials. The lessons have been as simple as how to open a program.

There have been a few minor glitches along the way, as is often the case when high tech has to travel a few thousand miles. With the sweltering heat this summer has brought to the Navajo Nation, it's more critical than ever that computers stay cool or they can have a "meltdown" fast. The computer room at the chapter was dangerously hot for a time, but a large air conditioner was ordered to keep the hard drives operable.

"Because the computers are drawing so much power, they're having to rewire the chapter," Bershteyn said.

One of the first of about 20 students to complete a Web site in just a few days was 9-year-old Tara Simonson. That didn't surprise Tara's mom, Lorraine Herder, who said her daughter always takes education seriously, even when it's supposed to be a fun summer project.

"That's how she is," Herder said. "Even at home, she (Tara) is reading all the time, a real bookworm. She gets her homework done before everybody else. She's real responsible at a young age."

Under the MIT sophs' guidance, the Hardrock students have used art images, such as scanned family photographs, and a simple text editor program to write Hyper Text Markup Language, or HTML, for Web site design. On her opening Web page, the letters that spell "Tara Simonson" glow with fiery embers all around them, a moving motif called Animated GIF (Graphics Interface Format).

The Web site design lingo and its mathematical side may take an MIT engineering expert to understand. But the Hardrock students have kept their Web creations down to earth, through their family ties, hobbies, pets and even their goals in life. Above her name, Tara has placed a photo of her grandma, 96-year-old Alice Nez. And next to the photo arranged vertically are her four clans, starting with her mom's Chishi, or Chiricahua Apache and her father's clan, Tl'izilani, the Many Goats Clan.

The Simonsons and Herders are a farm-oriented Navajo family living about 10 miles north of the Hardrock Chapter House, which is reflected in Tara's Web site. They own horses, Churro sheep, dogs and a pair of pigs that offered up some new piglets a few weeks ago. They also raise corn and pick fruit from their apple and peach trees.

"I don't know much what a 'Web page' is, but these little ones, they're learning," Hardrock Chapter President Percy Deal said.

He praised Bershteyn and Dekker for helping the chapter with its computer literacy, saying "It takes a special people willing to come out here. They could have stayed in Boston."

Computer technology and all it can do even for remote Navajo chapters is starting to take hold on the Navajo Nation, albeit slowly, Deal said. The chapter's Community Health Representatives can use the Internet capability on site to send their reports to Window Rock. There is also a plan to connect a telemedicine link with the Indian Health Service hospital in Tuba City.

Seeing how well the Hardrock Chapter folks have taken to their tech push, Bershteyn and Dekker may return again to do more assistance in the future. Students like Simonson have been that prospect inviting and rewarding.

"She (Tara) is very intense and focused, with a lot of maturity," Dekker said.

The students are not actually having their Web sites entered into the World Wide Web, not yet, anyway. That's for safety reasons. There may be a chance that their sites may be accessible to other students as part of a local linkup.

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