Jennifer Wolowic: Facebook top tool for First Nations

Facebook is becoming the number one way for on-reserve and off-reserve members of First Nations to connect with each other, according to research from Dr. Candis Callison at the UBC School of Journalism.

Despite the gap between First Nations communities living on reserve and in urban areas, Facebook allows the sharing of information between members of the same band across vast areas and between generations.

Facebook has also been particularly influential on the campaign trail for First Nations politicians, whose communities and constituents are spread out over a large geographic area.

Jennifer Wolowic, a PhD Candidate in Interdisciplinary Studies, is currently exploring the different practices that help people connect, including cell phones, social media, and photography. One aspect of her research focuses on the daily use of Facebook in the First Nations community in Prince Rupert.

For them, Facebook parallels and augments the use of the radio in villages. People post status updates to help find people and announce when they are selling things. However, they can also make public statements of appreciation, as well as share their favorite music videos and play games.

With the closure of the local newspaper in 2010, Facebook is also playing a larger role in organizing and promoting First Nations community events.

“In my work, people often request images and videos of themselves at events as they go online,” said Wolowic. “When I ask why, they tell me it is so they can share them with friends and family who were absent.”

One woman that Wolowic works with noted that Facebook provides a way to express grief and provide a source of comfort and healing when someone is in need.

“She told me that not a week goes by that she doesn’t see a RIP post and it seems to make the sadness in her community more real,” said Wolowic. “I recognize that her use of the word ‘community’ is not bound to one place, but stretches across the family in her village, Prince Rupert, and the people she cares about across the province and Canada.”

Similarly, the “always-on” nature of social media connects them to a support network when in need. A young man that Wolowic knows in Vancouver will post updates about major life decisions he is trying to make to source opinions from his extended family across the province.

“For First Nations who name family as one of their greatest strengths and recognize the power of public communication, social media is being embraced as a way to maintain and strengthen their relationships to the people and places of their community,” said Wolowic.

Wolowic hopes that her research will culminate in a public photography exhibit that challenges stereotypes of First Nations youth, and films about a local dance group and carving class that inspire cross-generational relationships.

Written by Mary Leong
Article Published June 6, 2011