September 12, 2008

Tribe opens tech center at Longhouse

The Catawba Indian Nation today will unveil a technology achievement center, which will offer workplace computer training, a GED program and small business classes to tribal members and area residents.

The center -- located in the Longhouse on the reservation east of Rock Hill -- includes 11 new computers and will be staffed by a licensed instructor who will teach GED courses and a work-skills technology program.

"It provides such a wonderful opportunity to help our tribal members increase their skills," Catawba Indian Chief Donald Rodgers said. "It is an achievement center. What we perceive is everyone who participates will be able to achieve something."

The center is the fifth in the country opened as part of Hope and Harmony for Humanity, a grant-based initiative designed to bring technology access and training to American Indians living in rural and remote areas.

Similar centers have been established at the Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Mont., the Leech Land Band of Ojibwe in Cass Lake, Minn., the Tigua Tribe at Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, Texas, and the Houlton Band of Maliseet in Houlton, Maine.

High unemployment

A U.S. Census survey found that in 2003 the unemployment rate for American Indians and Alaska natives was 9 percent higher than among the general population.

The Catawba Indian center was established with the help of $150,000 rural development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which paid for furniture, equipment and classroom supplies.

Other critical resources were provided through partnerships between the tribe and business or community organizations. IBM kicked in the computers, for example, and the instructor is provided by Tri-District/Chester Adult Education.

Software for the center was provided by SeniorNet, a national nonprofit organization that provides computer and Internet education for older adults and seniors.

Although the center is intended to help tribal members, it will be open to all residents of York, Chester and Lancaster counties, said Karen Nichols, the tribe's director of economic development. Users will pay a nominal fee for services. Classes begin Monday.

Nichols said the center will offer services for people who want to earn a GED, senior citizens who have never used a computer, small business owners and those who want to learn or improve workplace computer skills.

Rodgers said he hopes the new center will be used to help people improve their lives. "The services are starting to happen for our tribal membership," he said.

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