From The Inspector: Cyber Snowchange
and Medicine Wheel

(Years Behind the Control Panel of Snowchange by Marko Kulmala)

"Inspektor" @ British Columbia, Canada
"Inspektor" @ British Columbia, Canada

It was a day in Autumn 2001 when I got involved in the Snowchange Project. For person who was just couple of months ago hired to Tampere Polytechnic as webmaster (and teacher of Computer Science) it sounded fascinating opportunity to create something new. Web sites differs of course from books and other products of intellectual and creative thinking, but they are also similar because they tend to reflect views and ideas of the author what comes to visualization, interface design and technical implementation. The possibility to build up something starting from the point zero is both a positive challenge and an expression of trust. Now, in May 2004, looking back through all these three years, I have to say that being involved with the Snowchange Project it has been maybe experience-richest time in my adult life. And by saying this I don’t mean the code and computers. I’d like to use this opportunity firstly to gather up and share my experiences and emotions I have had in the Snowchange Project and secondly to analyze and suggest in brief, what Internet can/could provide for indigenous people and communities to make their voices to be better heard. Those ideas has arisen from my experiences which I have acquired while working as the webmaster for the Snowchange Project.

My Participation in Sharing Voices

My participation in realization of the project begun with planning and building the web site. The project was new to me, so were also it’s objectives. The fi rst version of the web site (www.snowchange.org) was built quite quick. It was a simple presentation of the project and the forthcoming Snowchange 2002 Conference in Tampere, Finland. Visualization and user interface was kept simple, white background dominating the screen and shades of blue providing the navigation structure, headings and title objects. Only one picture was used in visualization, Curtis Rattray, a Tahltan, sitting on the top of snowy hill near Dease Lake B.C., Canada. This picture of Curtis looking forwards to the horizon and a snowshoe resting against a rock, became soon to symbolize the Project itself. I utilized it also in Snowchange 2002 Conference posters, name badges and other conference materials. 

The Snowchange 2002 Conference in February was just a beginning for something which was about to open my eyes and expand my mind about issues essential to the Snowchange. A bulk of things happened of course during all these months and years and because I was sharing the same offi ce room with Tero Mustonen in Tampere Polytechnic the information fl ow about what was happening with Snowchange was guaranteed. At this point I have to say, that my academic background is in International Relations even though my work is with web sites and computers. In August I was travelling in the United States and because of the fact that a group our Environmental Management students were coming to Canada for a study excursion, I joined the group at Vancouver Airport for the forthcoming two weeks. Our trip went through Whitehorse (Yukon), Skagway (Alaska), Dease Lake (British Columbia) to Victoria (B.C.), Abbotsford (B.C.) Vancouver (B.C.) and Reykjavik (Iceland). All the places mentioned above has their own memories which I was happy to share with our students, but two of them were special. It felt something like a circle has closed when we overnight in Dease Lake in tents and made hikings to surrounding nature, and especially when we entered one day in the very same location where Curtis Rattray (who was in fact with us on this trip in Dease Lake, too) was looking to the horizon in the picture used in Snowchange visualizations. There I was, with students, looking to the horizon, from the very same place. My mind got fi lled with ideas and Snowchange was about to happen in my mind, too. Away from computers, middle in the wilderness, I was eye-witnessing the beauty of almost intact nature. The scenery I have been editing on my computer screen with Photoshop over and over for different purposes was now burning to my own retinae within all three dimensions. The fresh air fi lled my lungs and aired my head replacing the bytes with reality. But the most impressing part of the trip was yet to come. One very hot and dry day in Abbotsford B.C. our plan was to meet Kwak Wak Wakala First Nation –lady Theresa Neel. Theresa’s Kwakiutl-name is Nerkega (Coppers Piles So High Not Even Her Enemies Can Step On Them). Theresa was about to tell us about herself and about First Nations in Canada. However we got a sudden and unexpected chance to participate in Sto:lo First Nation (River People) Medicine Wheel. We were supposed to watch the Spirituality and Healing gathering, The Medicine Wheel, but the First Nation Elder Skemcis (Grizzly Bear) came to us with drummers and we were invited to join The Medicine Wheel. I, like most of us, experienced something spiritual which is impossible to try to say with words. We got the connection with the spirit of the nature. The experience was so crushing and explosive, that words didn’t come, only salty tears which the hot sun dried as soon as they dropped.

Soon after arriving back to Finnish lands our new excursion headed to the North, to meet with a Finnish Sami reindeer herder, Pentti Nikodemus and from there, to Russian North. Later on in November WWF Finland chose Snowchange as the “Best Ecological Project Of the Year” to receive the prestigious “Panda Prize”. I had an honour to participate the prize giving ceremony and to see Tero Mustonen and Pentti Nikodemus getting praise of their hard and important work in Snowchange. Also, during Autumn 2002 Snowchange web site was totally renewed due to traffi c growth and rising interest on the web site. Some old elements were recycled to the new design while the colour scheme was kept original. Re-design was also preparational work for Snowchange 2003 Conference in Murmansk, Russia. 

In the end of 2002 and in the beginning of 2003 I made a design for new Conference poster, postcards, name badges, conference programs and other accessories. Also, the custom made salmon-artwork for Snowchange Project was published and taken in use. The Snowchange logo made by Ab Morrison-Hayward is also in use in this book’s artwork. All these events during these years have been recorded also to the web site. I have had an honour to do that byte by byte, pixel by pixel.

Cyber Snowchange

While listening voices from communities, voices from people, or reading and learning about them, I have acquired new approach to my personal ideology on what is Cyberspace, what can be done in the net, how Internet technology can help those voices to be heard. I believe that much can be done. I hope that much will be done! If we think about issues like land, environment, traditional knowledge, folklore, language, community and collectivity, communications, learning… the list could be almost endless, Cyberspace is a new dimension to conquer and utilize. Power of word is maybe more powerful than ever before and the new power is accessible for everyone at low or no cost. If that power is utilized in the right an effective way, the voices will be heard and words will be listened.

Isolated (geographically or by mass culture, mass communications or dominating society or ethnic group) communities and groups can expand their territory to Cyberspace. The space in Cyberspace is unlimited. It is open for both explorers and warriors. It is waiting to be conquered. Cyberspace is for warriors to be the doers and the takers. For explorers to fi nd and notice your existence, read about your issues, listen up your messages and finally, to see and understand the world from a bit broader context than one’s own backyard.

For communities, Cyberspace offers a tool for real-time communication and rapid coordination of activities. For non-governmental and grass-roots organizations Cyberspace offers media space for specific issues in time when mass media is controlled by governments or by economy and in time when economical or political benefits are filtering what issues will be published and from which viewpoint.

For indigenous people Cyberspace offers also both the space and the tool for recording and telling about their culture and views to broad range of issues. Cyberspace can be used also to transmit cultural heritage to coming generations and to other people. Sound fi les, video fi les, pictures, interactive user interfaces and texts can be used for teaching and learning. One good sample of transmitting traditional knowledge can be seen in Snowchange web site. With permission of Leah Aksaajuq Otak, Tampere Polytechnic prepared and published material about inuit caribou skinning process in Igloolik, Nunavut, Canada. Plans about story telling web site also exists.

Medicine Wheel

It was early December in 2003 when I made a phone call to my friend and we discussed about quite personal and heavy issues about life. I was laying in my bed. Suddenly strong affections gripped my heart and mind. I couldn’t hold the tears and I couldn’t say a word. On my mind I was transferred back to that hot day in late August, 2002, seeing the eyes of the First Nation Elder Skemcis (Grizzly Bear) and hearing her wise words. I was feeling the heat of that day, seeing the eagles circle in the sky right top of us. My friend was listening me crying and when I finally got some strength to say some words, I tried to explain her what I was feeling and that I was very confused about why I at that very moment remembered everything about The Medicine Wheel. Why? Why I forgot The Medicine Wheel for over one whole year, and now when I was passing through strong emotions and difficult issues, the first thing which came up to my mind was The Medicine Wheel and Elder Skemics. 

During these Snowchange years I have experienced rich adventures and episodes. I have found a lot of new and good friends. I have learned a lot about issues which might have been not to be learned. I have experienced things which I have no words not describe. I have learned about Life.

NOTE : This article was originally published in Snowscapes, Dreamscapes - Snowchange Book on Community Voices of Change. Tampere Polytechnic Publications. Ser C, Study Materials 12. ISBN 952-5264-28-9, ISSN 1456-0038. Year: 2004.