Writings and observations

trahant MARK


I remember getting in trouble as a teenager. The story beat me home. I was stunned at the velocity of information in a small community. The chain went like this: Something happened. People talked. And the story spread. Fast.

I guess that’s why social media, to me, is an old form of storytelling. It’s how we naturally tell stories, spreading the word to one friend (or follower) in real time. And then another. And again.

But while the forum is essentially the same, there are two new twists, the use of digital tools and the increased size of our network. (A generation ago our “network” might be a few friends gathered for coffee at the trading post. Today it’s a thousand friends on Facebook, their thousand friends, and definitely more on Twitter, Tumblr or Snapchat.)

The ice bucket challenge to raise money to prevent ALS — Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — or Lou Gehrig’s Disease is a great example of how social media works. The brilliant campaign has earned more than $70 million with the goal of creating a world “without ALS!”

Every day my Facebook feed has new posts from someone taking this challenge. (Of course this whole challenge thing is familiar anyway. It’s a lot like the Winter Challenge that spread across Canada and Indian Country. Carielynn Victor, from Chilliwack, B.C., told Global News Canada that the idea was not a new one, but the concept of taking it public was new.)

So why ALS? It’s a fabulous cause and worth doing. That said: What if Indian Country could harness social media to impact the diseases that are killing most of our friends and family?

So heart disease is the leading killer in Indian Country. What if we raised money for research and action for American Indians and Alaska Natives? Or diabetes? Or any disease that impacts most of us. It could be money targeted to make a real difference in our lives.

Then, the power of social media is not just about money. Imagine what we could do to health disparities if social media challenged tens of thousands of people to walk more. Or eat better. Then post results in real time so that we all stay on task.

Beyond disease and public health, social media could be used to “challenge” American Indians and Alaska Natives to register and vote at levels that are unprecedented. If the same intensity of the winter challenge, or the ice bucket challenge, or any social media phenomenon, was applied to November’s balloting, well, it would upend the status quo. Guaranteed.

One reason the winter challenge and the ice bucket challenge worked so well is that they were simple to do, and easy to pass along virally. It’s fun to see a friend jump in a creek. We laugh at the way people met their challenge. (I did a snow angel in the shadow of Denali courtesy of Laura John at the Montana Policy and Budget Center.)

So any election challenge must be simple and fun. And be specific. Laura challenged me. Then I added friends, creating an exponential network.

There have already been some really smart efforts to increase Native voting. Indeed, the last election cycle produced record numbers. In New Mexico and Montana, for example, Native Americans voted at a higher percentage than the general population, 77 percent and 64 percent. That could be across the country. Especially in Alaska, Oklahoma, Arizona, the Dakotas. Already this year, the National Congress of American Indians has called for a summer of action for the Native Vote (there’s a Google hangout posted that explores details) to to just that.

Now it’s time to add to those efforts and tap the awesome power that is social media. If we can ask our friends to jump into a creek, we sure as hell can ask them to vote. We ought to do that in a video and on our Facebook page. Let’s take the ice bucket into the voting booth and really change the country.

Mark Trahant serves as the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

Share on Facebook



Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Optum Idaho mis-routes some medical data (Boise Statesman)
New 80mph speeds lead to more tickets (Boise Statesman)
Conditions at Syringa mobile park: ‘3rd world’ (Lewiston Triune, Moscow News)
School test results released in WA (Moscow News)
Salary issues at Canyon Co budget session (Nampa Press Tribune)
Pocatello mail processing plant will close (Pocatello Journal)
Twin Falls Co may drop parks gun ban (TF Times News)
TF urban district buys downtown building (TF Times News)

State approaches level for tax kicker (Salem Statesman Journal, Corvallis Gazette, KF Herald & News)
Springfield road blocked by megaload (Eugene Register Guard)
Wolves one kill away from hunt order (Pendleton E Oregonian, KF Herald & News)
Salem emergency room getting packed (Salem Statesman Journal)

88% of WA schools not making enough progress (Bremerton Sun)
Bremerton may make a street for MLK (Bremerton Sun)
WA grape growers may get record harvest (Kennewick Herald)
Statewide test results show good, bad (Tacoma News Tribune, Vancouver Columbian, Yakima Herald Republic, Kennewick Herald, Olympian, Longview News)
Desert Hills middle school may move (Kennewick Herald)
Tacoma cops using cell phone data grabbing (Tacoma News Tribune, Kennewick Herald)
St. Helens port industrial plan snagged (Longview News)
Wahkiahum football stand closed over rot (Longview News)
Reviewing the end of Elwha dam (Port Angeles News)
New chief exec for Port of Seattle (Seattle Times)
ACLU calls for secular clinic at Spokane (Spokane Spokesman)
Still patient barriers in some insurance plans (Spokane Spokesman)
health plan options expanding (Vancouver Columbian)

Share on Facebook

First Take