Valerie Fast Horse, 46, is the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s director of information technology. She’s a “technological visionary,” says Chief Allan, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s chairman, “helping bridge the digital divide in Indian Country.”
Fast Horse headed up the effort to bring wireless Internet service to the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation in 2002. Now, she’s working on a $12.2 million project to provide faster Internet service through fiber optic connections. Her department is also the force behind Rezkast, a website for Native American videos and blogs.
In December, the tribe plans to launch KWIS FM 88.3, a radio station serving the reservation.
Fast Horse recently received a “Women Making History” award from Boise State University. She also serves on the Federal Communication Commission’s broadband task force for Native nations.
Q. What drew you to technology and computers?
A. I served a total of 10 years in both the Army and the Army Reserves. During the first Gulf War, I was assigned to the information management division in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Personal computers were fairly new, but we were using them in the military. It opened up my eyes to the power of communication technology.
It always stuck in my mind … that in peacetime times and for peaceful purposes, communication technology could be used for my own culture.
Q. Tell me about the fiber optic project.
A. Since we built the wireless network, the Internet has changed. People are placing lots of video and audio online. The network we built isn’t keeping up the content. … Fiber optic is the only viable option. It’s a $12.2 million loan and grant project – a hand-in-hand effort by the federal government and the tribe. We’re going to be able to connect 3,500 homes on the western half of the reservation. It’s going to provide tremendously faster service.
Q. How did Rezkast get started?
A. Rezkast was born out of necessity to encourage people to use technology to preserve our language, history and culture. It’s based on a YouTube model. We have a language that is quickly going away. Only a handful of elders are left who grew up speaking the language.
We built Rezkast with not just the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in mind, but all Native people. We have members from all over the U.S., and some from overseas.
Q. You talk about your mom’s influence on your life.
A. My mom (Jackie Williams) is a very strong, strong lady. I just admire her. She was a homemaker, and women didn’t have anything close to what we have now. At one point, she did our laundry with hauled water – we had a wringer washer and a clothesline in the backyard. She was always taking care of people and she did it without complaining.
Q. What are you dreaming of next?
A. Ways for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to really harness the power of multimedia, such as developing our own shows with locally and culturally relevant content. I hope that someday we get a studio and we’re doing kids programs to teach language. Like “Indian Barney” or “Indian Sesame Street.” Or, developing video games or other applications for iPods and iPhones. You could have a game with a language component.