Buffalo in the summer grasses

Techniques for Evaluating
American Indian Web Sites

Updated 25 July 2000.

The World Wide Web as part of the Internet reflects United States culture. One can find almost anything on the Web that one can find offline in the "real" world.

American Indian peoples live in the real world, and Web sites by and about Indian peoples live on the Web. Just as Indians are sometimes treated fairly in the real world, the Web contains sites that show Indians in respectful ways with accurate information, quality products to sell, and as whole human beings with real lives. Just as Indian peoples are sometimes treated wrongly in the real world, the Web also contains sites that use inaccurate and damaging "information", and portray Native peoples as either less or more than human, or as products to be exploited and sold in some fashion (especially Native spirituality).

The purpose of this Web page is to provide some guidelines useful for evaluating and identifying Web sites that contain accurate information and that are not exploitative of American Indians. Note that these guidelines are not all inclusive nor are they foolproof. Web site evaluation must also include the knowledge that one already has about Native peoples and brings to the Web. If you don't know if a site is presenting accurate information, find a source that you trust, online or offline, and compare what you find there with what you find in the Web site.

Being on the Web is usually a solitary activity so that often you must rely on your own judgment to discern accurate and respectful Web sites about Native peoples. There is no one American Indian culture or people, so what is correct for one tribe or nation is not automatically correct for another tribe or nation. Be careful what you believe to be true. Ask questions.

Evaluation Guidelines for
Web Sites about American Indian Peoples

General Web Site Guidelines

Is the site so sophisticated that to access it requires computer software and hardware that are state-of-the-art?
Continuous development in computers means that to access many of the bells and whistles found on Web sites, one must also continuously upgrade to hardware and software with those capabilities. Many Indian people can't access certain sites because they can't afford to constantly upgrade their computer resources. A site with the latest Web software features may indicate that the site is aimed toward people who have the financial resources to use expensive computers. This doesn't automatically mean that the site is exploitative or incorrect in some way, but that it excludes from its audience individuals with older computers. While at a Web site that dazzles the eye and ear, carefully evaluate its intent and the content, especially if the site is trying to sell something or to convince you of a certain position.

Is the site well-organized and easy to move around in? Does it take a long time for the site to load onto your computer?

Web pages are publications for the public. For someone to be able to understand and easily access its content, the publication must be designed so that the information seeker can move within a page, or from page to page, without getting lost or having to click again and again through layers of links to get to the substantive information. Per minute online charges, slow modems or insufficient memory, and limited time to spend on the Web are all valid reasons to evaluate a site for ease of use, and to determine whether the site is worth coming to again, or even worth continuing to try to access a first time.

Is the site kept up-to-date, with current links, new material added from time to time, and a creation or revision date?

Links that are not "broken," new material that is added to a site on a regular basis, and a revision date that is fairly recent indicates a living site that is nurtured and grows. This is not an indication of the accuracy or non-exploitative nature of a Web site, but it shows that the WebBuilder takes pride in working on the site to be usable, current, and a place for the information seeker to return. URLs change all the time so an occasional broken link is forgivable; but many broken links show site neglect, and perhaps for its content too. Some sites don't require updating so these guidelines may not apply to them.

Is the purpose of the site clear? Does the stated purpose match the actual content?

A site that states its purpose in the introduction or the title gives you immediate information about the content. If the site follows its declared intent, a straightforward and coherent relationship exists between the WebBuilder and the reader. This helps to create the site's credibility. Keep the intent in mind as you read through the site to help identify possible hidden or more obvious agendas. If a site tells you nothing at all about why it exists, closely examine it before accepting the information it presents.

What links are included to other sites? How well do these links meet criteria for quality Web sites?

It is impossible for WebBuilders to pick and choose who links to their sites. The Web is a network of interactive documents where people usually make reference to one another's sites by linking to them. Just as print authors are unable to monitor who cites them in journal articles, books, and other printed works, Web authors cannot monitor who links to them. This is even more uncontrollable on the Web because of its organic and growing nature. Each linked site should be evaluated on its own merit, not automatically assumed to be accurate and respectful (or otherwise) because of who is linking to it.
A WebBuilder does control what links to include in a site. Evaluation of a site also means evaluating the links that the WebBuilder chooses to include. Links are part of the site's total content, and links to respectful and accurate Web sites are important to maintaining quality; however, a quality link may not benefit an otherwise disrespectful or inaccurate Web site beyond being merely a good link, and links to disrespectful or inaccurate sites are like citations to questionable printed material, reflecting poorly on the WebBuilder's choice of links.

Authority Guidelines

Who is the WebBuilder for the site? Is an email address included?

A Web site is a publication. Just as one would want to know about the author of a book, knowing about the author of a Web site is also useful to determine whether a site is reliable. An email address provides a way to contact the WebBuilder and is an identifier for that person.
A WebBuilder who self-identifies acknowledges accountability for a site. This doesn't automatically grant credibility, but it does mean the WebBuilder stands by the work. Web sites do exist that are accurate and non-exploitative of Native peoples without the WebBuilder being revealed. This guideline is to be used along with others for an overall evaluation of the site.

Does the site's URL give you any information as to the authority and validity of the site?

A server that is owned by a tribe usually has Web pages about that tribe. For instance, the Oneida Indian Nation Web site lives on a server owned by the nation: http://oneida-nation.net/
Some domain names include ".nsn.us" in the server name, which indicates the server belongs to a Native sovereign nation (nsn) that is federally recognized (us); however, not all federally recognized tribes that own their servers (particularly those that have had their domain names for some time) will include this identifier in the server name, as is shown above with the Oneida's Web site. Also, since not all legitimate Indian tribes are recognized by the federal government, their server names will not contain ".nsn.us."
A Web page that is a personal page should be closely examined. This is evident in the URL by a " ~ " (tilde) before a login name, and is often on a server with .edu (server of an academic institution) or .com (commercial server that charges for people to put Web sites up) in the URL. Look at the URL for this page and notice the ~ecubbins and the .edu indicating that this is part of a personal Web site at an academic institution.

If the site claims to represent a tribe or a tribal view, is there information supporting the claim that it is an "official" or authorized Web site for the tribe?

Welcoming statements by tribal leaders, links to information about services for tribal members, and claims of the official nature of a site are possible clues, but are not conclusive evidence to identifying a tribe's official site. When in doubt, find out from a reliable source: call, write or email the tribe and ask. A good indication is if a server is owned by the tribe, but tribes do not always own the server where their official Web sites are located. For an example of this, see the tribal web site for the Miami Nation at http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/7156/
If a site claims to speak for a tribe, check with that tribe to verify the site's authority before believing that it actually does represent tribal consensus.

If the site builder self-identifies as Indian, is tribal affiliation identified? Is the word used to identify the tribe accurate?

It is very easy for people to misrepresent themselves on the Web, and "playing Indian" is unfortunately common.
For example, a person who identifies only as "Native American" or "American Indian" leaves much open to question since most Native peoples identify themselves in connection to a particular tribe rather than under general terminology.
Tribal identification is often very specific. For example, rather than identifying simply under the "catch-all" name of Sioux, people who are generalized under this tribal affiliation often are more specific about Sioux identity (i.e., Rosebud Sioux, Oglala Sioux), or self-identify as being Dakota, Lakota, or Nakota, and usually even more specifically within each of these tribal groups. Language, post-contact history, and culture are similar but not identical for these tribes, and although they identify closely with each other, each is unique. The word Sioux comes from a mispronunciation by French traders of an Anishinaabeg word nadonesiouweg meaning "people who act like snakes". The Anishinaabeg and the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota were traditional enemies.

Content Guidelines

Is the site marketing something, persuading or informing you of something, providing information, or introducing something personal about the WebBuilder?

Any of these purposes may be legitimate, or perhaps not. The key is to know what the intent of the site is at the beginning so that its content and the direction you will be taken are out in the open for you to judge the site for yourself.

Is the content for the site presented from the Native or the non-Native point of view?

The Native point of view attempts to present information from an insider's point of view. The non-Native point of view attempts to present information from an outsider's point of view. Both may be reliable, but only an Indian person knows what it is like to be Indian. Non-Native people cannot experience what it is like to be Native, although they may offer information about Native peoples that is both accurate and respectful.
Indian people may be primary sources about their own tribes and certainly are about their own experiences of being Indian. Non-Indian people are secondary sources about Indian people and tribes, although they are primary sources about their own non-Indian experiences.
How does one verify that someone who claims to be Native on the Web is in reality Native? This is crucial when deciding whether to believe the Native view of a particular Web site. When in doubt, go to other sources you trust and ask. The Web is really a small place, and the offline identity of many people who are claiming Native identity is known in the Indian community.

Are the images and icons used on the site accurate and respectful or neutral, or are they inaccurate and caricatures or disrespectful in other ways? If photographs are used, has permission to use them been given?

Images are powerful messengers in any medium. The Web has uncountable images of Native peoples as buttons, artwork, photographs, backgrounds, horizontal and vertical bars, and more. Many are respectful, but many are not.
Examples of disrespectful images are Chief Wahoo and knockoffs, animals dressed up "like Indians", the last-of-his-race types of images, stereotypes of material culture that are inaccurate pertaining to the text, photographs of people (especially of children) that are being used without permission.
Examples of respectful images include accurate representations of material culture pertaining to the text, photographs used with permission, and artwork showing Indians as whole people with real life concerns, no matter what era is being depicted.

Is the text written in monosyllables as Tonto would speak, or is it in the "noble savage" speak?

An example of Tonto speak: "Me go to town, findum Sheriff." Incorrect grammar, no articles, short choppy sentences.
An example of noble savage speak excerpted from The Last of the Mohicans: "...why do my daughters weep? that a young man has gone to the happy hunting-grounds; that a chief has filled his time with honor? He was good; he was dutiful; he was brave...I am a blazed pine, in a clearing of the pale faces. My race has gone from the shores of the salt lake and the hills of the Delawares. But who can say that the serpent of his tribe has forgotten his wisdom? I am alone --"
A site that speaks to the readers in Tonto or Noble Savage speak is disrespectful, promotes stereotypes about Native peoples, and contains erroneous content.

If stories or poetic words are provided, does the site tell you where they come from? Are they appropriate for the general viewing public on the Web?

The oral traditions of Native people are thousands of years old, and alive and flourishing today. Stories that are told and songs that are sung are integral elements of Native cultures, having meaning within the context of those cultures, and perhaps meant for only certain people within the culture.
Poems are beautiful to read, but many poems that pass for traditional Indian poetry are actually verses of songs taken from a larger work, a work that is to be sung only by a certain person or persons, and at a certain time for a certain purpose. These verses should not be publicized on the Web. This is disrespectful and exploits the Indian people whose song it is.
Almost everyone likes a story and can learn from it, but there are incorrect versions of tribal stories circulating on the Web and in print; also, errors in details give inaccurate information about Indian people. A story is an effective teaching tool only if the teacher and the learner both understand how the story applies to the lesson. Often Native stories refer to certain people or a geographical region where something happened so that the meaning is tied with a personal acquaintance of people and place. Some stories should be told only at specific times of the year, or by certain people to a particular audience, or in a particular language.
Knowing a story or poem's tribal affiliation is essential to verify authenticity and to determine whether the story is one that should be available for public viewing. This is also true for poetry. Using books for verification is problematic because many "respected" books contain stories that are inaccurate and poems that should not be printed. The best way to find out if a site contains work that is both accurate and respectful is to ask members of the tribe given credit for the work.

Is the content accurate (e.g., Indian people, no matter what tribal group, incorrectly depicted as living in tipis)?

There are over 500 American Indian tribes in the United States, from different geographical locations, with different histories, cultures, languages, and relationships to each other, and to state and federal governments. Although some tribes may be closely related to each other, there is no Pan-Indian way. Even related tribes vary in significant ways. Small details pertaining to dress, housing or other material culture are good clues about evaluating a Web site. Good sites will acknowledge the complex diversity of American Indians and present accurate information clearly while avoiding simplification.

If the site is trying to sell something, does the seller tell you about how the item was acquired or created? Does the seller try to make you feel that you are buying into the "mysterious powers" of American Indians if you buy the product?

It is illegal to sell items claiming to be made by American Indian people unless it is true, to sell human remains or artifacts associated with Native burials, and to sell items obtained through illegal means (e.g., theft or fraud). Unfortunately, all this happens all the time in relation to Native peoples.
It is disrespectful to sell items portraying Native people in photographs without their consent, or selling items in connection with an Indian person's name without consent, but both these things happen all the time.
Before you buy something over the Web claiming to be "authentically" American Indian made, verify that it is, that it is legally obtained, and that it does not exploit Indian people. If the seller tries to market "the mystical powers" of Indians with the product, and the "powers" can also be yours if you plunk down your money, beware! No non-Native person can experience being Indian through the purchase and possession of a thing or an experience.

Are sacred objects, ways, knowledge, or other forms of Native spirituality being offered for sale?

It is ethically wrong, and in some cases illegal, to sell Native spirituality, either by Native or non-Native people. Unfortunately this is big business on and off the Web, and a site that does this exploits American Indian peoples. Native or non-Native persons may also "peddle" Native spirituality for free, but the payback to them is self-aggrandizement, to make themselves appear more "Indian", to gather followers, to pretend they have something others don't, to gain power in some way. This is wrong, and sometimes dangerous. Injuries and death have occurred to some of those seeking an "authentic Indian spiritual experience" from unscrupulous people. Protect yourself and protect Native spirituality. Don't buy it with money or with the "worship" for someone who is exploiting spirituality to gain power in some way.

Is there anything about the content or presentation that makes you feel uncomfortable?

If a site is questionable, ask knowledgeable people to evaluate it, notify tribes about sites to find out their opinions, and check reliable print and nonprint sources (if possible) for verification.
If your verification source gives approval, but you still don't feel comfortable about the site, then let it go.

A Thank You! goes to :

All errors belong to the author.

Please email your comments and questions regarding this site to Elaine Cubbins, MA-IRLS at ecubbins@u.arizona.edu

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©1997-2000 by Elaine M. Cubbins, MA-IRLS
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