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Strengthening Ties Through Technology in the Arctic Slope

Photo of ICAS StaffThe Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, representing 6,300 enrolled Inupiat Eskimos, serves eight Inupiat villages in Alaska’s 89,000 square-mile North Slope Borough.

Geographic remoteness, harsh weather, high living costs, difficulty retaining staff and poor communication systems have typically made it difficult for village staff to perform ordinary administrative and management duties. 

In 2009, a new Internet provider came to the North Slope region, installing a high bandwidth wireless Internet system, providing ICAS the opportunity to improve its communication network.  A social and economic development strategies grant by the Administration for Native Americans made the project possible.

In 2010, ICAS planners created a community-wide Internet portal and organizational intranet for its Barrow headquarters and four villages:  Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, and Anaktuvuk Pass. To do this, a three-person design team, with advice from a 15-person region-wide focus group, compiled and organized tribal records, policies, and procedures; created new administration, accounting and computer usage policies; designed, built and deployed a web page and intranet; and uploaded all records and documents into the new intranet platform. 

ICAS’ new web page reflected the interests of the North Slope community, using content, photos and Inupiat language terms recommended by the focus groups. The new intranet platform provided access to webmail, a calendar, core forms and documents, and a file sharing system for each of the villages.

The intranet, accessible through a link on the new website, was set up on a remotely-managed Google cloud server, enabling staff to access files and calendars without requiring the ICAS to purchase expensive servers, software or network equipment.

Once the new system was set up, design team members traveled to the villages, assessing and testing the system.  They trained village staff in how to use it and software programs such as Quickbooks, Office 2007 and Skype. The team also distributed new desktop and laptop computers, replacing old machines still using Windows 95 and 98 operating systems.

Since the project has ended, village staff members have vastly improved their capacity to perform their jobs.

According to project team members, the training, new equipment, ease of use of the new intranet system and easy accessibility of policies, procedures, forms and key documents have helped staff to more clearly understand their duties, follow ICAS administrative policies and provide useful services to village members.

Additionally, village staff is less isolated, more communicative with the ICAS main office and other villages, and more able to resolve the day-to-day problems arising in their communities.