Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Racialization of Early Electronic Manufacture
From 1965 to 1975 the legendary Silicon Valley company Fairchild Semiconductor operated a state-of-the-art integrated circuit manufacturing plant in Shiprock, New Mexico on Navajo land. In the face of concerns about high-tech pollution, increasingly empowered labor organizations, and a newly politicized and visible American Indian civil rights movement, indigenous electronic workers at Shiprock were pressed into service as examples of the peaceful coexistence and integration of the past and the future, the primitive and the modern, creativity and capitalism. Navajo women workers were described as ideal predigital digital workers, uniquely suited to the job by temperament, culture, and gender. Their labor as platform builders was cited as evidence that digital work—the work of the hand and its digits—could be painlessly transferred from the indigenous cultural context into the world of technological commercial innovation, benefiting both in the process.