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The Fight for Tribal Access to Broadband: Informed K12 Welcomes Mariel Triggs of MuralNet

Mariel Triggs is the hands-on CEO of MuralNet, an organization that works to bring broadband internet to every Tribal community. Founded in 2017 by Martin Casado and Bran Shih, MuralNet has worked with dozens of Tribal nations since their first project helping to build a network in the Village of Supai at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. 

Mariel plays a critical role in coordinating deployments, partnerships, and educational efforts for MuralNet. She has taken part in every aspect of builds from applying for licenses and funding to staging and mounting equipment. As an engineer, educator, and researcher, she has pushed innovation in STEM classrooms and her work with online math curriculum proved how vital access to Internet resources is for learning content as well as changing mindsets. 

What did we talk about? 

We had a very full conversation that, unfortunately, will not fit into a blog post. However, please read below for some of the themes and areas of discussion from Mariel’s time with Informed K12.

Accessing Airwaves

Some of the largest issues in bringing internet access to Tribal nations is an issue of regulation. In one scenario Mariel spoke about, MuralNet was able to bring and set up broadband for a remote area of Arizona. However, even after the initial setup workout, it took the government four months to respond to the request. They stated they were concerned about “interference in the airways.” Despite there being no one around for 200 miles, the government persisted in its opposition. It was only after Mariel and a tribal representative flew to Washington DC to meet with the wireless division of the FCC and explain the Tribe's specific need for internet access. Nonetheless, even after this meeting, it still took another year and a half for the project to receive approval. 

To Mariel, this is not an access issue, this is a policy issue. She said in our meeting:

“We're talking about autonomous nations who are given land after we push them to the furthest corners and most inhospitable places, it's in the United States. And then we're telling them they can't use the away over their own and take advantage of these opportunities?” 

To address this policy issue, Mariel and her team got the government to create a Tribal Priority Window that would give Tribes priority to claim the licenses for internet access over their land.

Education and Internet connectivity 

For most of us at Informed K12, we take internet access for granted and as a given. As a remote company, our team works from home, connects to wifi, and receives a phone and internet stipend. Mariel was able to remind us how this resource is not a resource to which all Tribal nations have access and gave us examples of how important connectivity is for Tribal nations who live in remote areas. 

Access to education and secondary education through remote learning can help high school students in these communities. To continue secondary (high school) education, many of these students would need to travel long distances to access this level of education.

Some barriers that students face to access this education are financial burdens of transportation to and from school, meals, and housing while they are away from their families. These students are often so young and it can be difficult for them to be away from family and their support systems. By providing internet access to students, they can access remote learning without having to travel long distances and leave their communities.

Cultural Preservation and Education

Another large benefit of connecting to the internet for Tribal nations is, as Mariel puts it, “the ability to upload so we can hear their {Tribal Nation’s} voices.” From years of forced assimilation by the US government, there have been parts of different Tribal nations’ culture, language, and knowledge that have been lost. Through access to the internet, Tribal nations will be able to upload information about their culture, language, and knowledge so that this can be preserved and shared. 

People who are not from Tribal nations can learn more about Tribal culture and have more access to and understanding of the barriers Tribal nations experience when trying to access the internet. The goal is to help us understand, build empathy and get involved in organizations like MuralNet so we can support the mission and goals of bringing internet access to all. 

Systemic Barriers for Marginalized Communities 

What stood out about Mariel’s stories is that it doesn't take a coordinated conspiracy to create the numerous barriers tribal communities face, all it takes is a lack of care or thought about them. Most of our government systems and procedures were built without these marginalized communities in mind. This is how government officials failed to consider how egregious it is to regulate the air above tribal lands when that land was originally stolen from them. In another instance, Mariel spoke about the government not processing an application for funds for broadband access because Tribal names were not spelled correctly. The application's denial was caused by a person misspelling names because they were unfamiliar with non-westernized names. These small acts of neglect build up over time and result in layers of barriers that further marginalize Tribal communities.

Here’s what our team had to say after we met with Mariel and learned more about her work

Mariel's work is so impactful and one of the many things that will stick with me was when she said "it's not just about what they are able to download but what they are able to upload so we can hear their {Tribal Nation’s} voices." Today’s discussions was extremely engaging and I really appreciate her taking the time to educate us on her impactful work and the people she serves in the face of countless, countless barriers.  

I'm thankful to Mariel for her authenticity, and I'm glad she didn't sugarcoat anything. The anger that I feel hearing about this is nothing compared to the reality that Native communities have been and continue to experience. Often we want to hear feel-good stories to make ourselves comfortable, but that's not where deep awareness comes from. I've often thought about the lack of resources that are available on the reservations but hadn't thought about one of those resources being the Internet. 

Want to learn more? Check out these resources put together by members of our team to learn more about Indigenous Communities and MuralNet’s work!

I is for Ignorable: Stereotyping Native Americans

8 of the biggest misconceptions people have about Native Americans 

5 Ways to Celebrate Indigenous People’s Day this Year

6 Misconceptions about Native American People