The University of Arizona

Narratives of Technology and Self-Determination in the STARPAHC Project

Paul Hacker Jones


This paper examines the Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Healthcare Project (STARPAHC) which took place on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation from 1974 -1978 as a joint project between NASA, the Indian Health Service, and the O'odham Executive Health Staff. This is accomplished primarily through the analysis of the primary evidence available from the STARPAHC archive at the University of Arizona. The finding is that two parallel narratives of STARPAHC emerged. One, promoted by NASA and public media that the project was testing the technology on the O'odham for America's space program and a second, promoted by the Indian Health Service and the tribe which imagined STARPAHC as the application of space technology for the self-determination of the O'odham. The findings of the paper are that these contested narratives existed because of differences in the understanding of technology's role for self-determination. Particularly from the IHS and O'odham, significant efforts were made to control the narrative in order to promote their image of STARPAHC, but biases and missteps from NASA made this difficult. Concluding, the paper suggests that STARPAHC is useful for understanding how technology interfaces with the idea of sovereignty for Indian nations.

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STARPAHC archive: records from the Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care project, 1970-1991 (bulk 1972-1978). Arizona Archive of Telemedicine; University of Arizona. Health Sciences Library: Arizona Telemedicine Program; 1970.

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