2022 Indigenous Connectivity Summit: Calls to Action
Each year, the Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS) brings together Indigenous leaders, network operators, and policymakers to nurture a continent-wide community dedicated to enhancing the capacity of Indigenous communities to connect to affordable, sustainable internet on their terms.
As part of this effort, each year since the first ICS in 2017, delegates have developed and endorsed a set of recommendations that, if adopted by governments and other stakeholders, will help advance connectivity in Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States.
Here we present the 2022 Indigenous Connectivity Summit Calls to Action.
These Calls to Action come at a unique point in time. As we emerge from the pandemic, it appears there is an unprecedented level of commitment from governments, the private sector, and the philanthropic community to address the connectivity gap. At this year’s Summit, delegates were focused on ensuring that this energy translates into action. They were also aware that new approaches are needed if this action is to result in lasting, systematic change that will ensure Indigenous Peoples have access to all of the opportunities internet access can provide.
This year’s Calls to Action aim to help drive this change in approach.
The Calls to Action were created through a community-driven process at this year’s Summit. Throughout the event, a team of volunteers participated in discussions and identified important themes, challenges, and opportunities to advance digital equity. On the final day of the Summit, delegates formed working groups to develop draft Calls to Action. These were posted online to a shared document for the two weeks following the Summit for further refinement. The result is the recommendations presented below.
While these Calls to Action speak for themselves, they build upon recommendations developed at past Summits. We encourage people — particularly policymakers — to read the historical record of recommendations as they shape their programs and policies. See 2019, 2020, and 2021 ICS Policy Recommendations.
Please use these Calls to Action. Put them in front of policymakers and other decision-makers. Raise them in meetings and include them in reports. Share them on social media. In whatever ways make sense to you, please use them to push for real, lasting progress for Indigenous connectivity.
2022 Indigenous Connectivity Summit Calls to Action
1. Building participatory and inclusive policy consultation and funding processes
- Digital inequity is the product of colonialism. We, therefore, call on the governments of Canada and the United States to decolonize their respective telecommunications policy processes by:
- Supporting the creation of an Indigenous taskforce on telecommunications to work with government departments and agencies, as well as Nations and Indigenous-mandated organizations to facilitate meaningful consultation processes. Furthermore, governments should work with the taskforce(s) to establish a clear definition of ‘duty to consult’ and appropriate consultation guidelines/processes.
- Developing an active consultation process to replace the current passive one. This means proactively consulting with Indigenous rights holders instead of requiring formal submissions.
- Working with Nations and Indigenous-mandated organizations to make comment procedures and consultation processes more accessible by ensuring consultation deadlines take into account the unique realities of many Indigenous communities, such as harvesting season and other traditional and cultural practices.
- Above all, acknowledging that Indigenous Peoples are rights holders in the process, not stakeholders, and that Indigenous world views and the knowledge and expertise held by Indigenous Peoples need to be recognized and valued in policy development, particularly in issues affecting their lands, communities, territories, and resource development.
- We call on governments to ensure Indigenous representation is present at relevant international fora where telecommunications issues that may affect Indigenous territories are discussed, such as at the International Telecommunication Union and the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL). We also call on governments, the private sector, and the philanthropic community to ensure Indigenous Peoples have the necessary resources they need to participate in such international fora.
- We call on governments, the private sector, the educational sector, and the philanthropic community to support capacity-sharing programming to enhance the ability of Indigenous Peoples to participate in telecommunications policy processes at the regional, national, and international levels.
2. Rethinking approaches to connectivity
- Governments should require that projects that use government funds take a First Mile First approach, meaning the project must be designed and implemented with the community end user as the starting point, not the end point.
- We call on governments, the private sector, and the philanthropic community to recognize that connectivity underlies many aspects of social, cultural, and economic life, and therefore any initiatives, projects, or funding programs must take a cross-disciplinary and holistic approach, integrating housing strategies, health care, economic development programs, environmental and education initiatives, public safety, and other appropriate sectors.
- We call on governments, the private sector, and the philanthropic community to adopt a strengths-based approach to connectivity initiatives, as opposed to a deficits-based approach. This means recognizing the strengths the community already has identified (such as youth, community cohesion, familiarity with the local geography, and Traditional Knowledge) and developing programs and projects that reflect, support, and build on those strengths. Those strengths, taken as a whole, are a form of capital and should be valued as part of the eligibility criteria for funding programs and other digital equity initiatives.
- Recognizing the high costs of operating networks in rural and remote areas, we call on governments, the private sector, and philanthropic organizations to provide sustainable funding for the ongoing operation of networks, not just upfront capital costs.
3. Holding governments and industry accountable
- We call on the governments of Canada and the United States to strengthen and enforce their existing regulatory mechanisms to hold companies accountable in the event they misuse government funds for telecommunications projects affecting Indigenous territories, or when they are deemed to be not acting in the best interest of the community as determined by local leadership. Effective monitoring and evaluation, including by Indigenous communities and organizations, of the outcomes of government-funded projects will be crucial to ensuring that funds being spent are achieving project goals.
- We also call on the governments of Canada and the United States to provide incentives for telecommunications companies to support their employees that work with Indigenous communities to take cultural sensitivity training, such as the “Indigenous Canada” MOOC offered by the University of Alberta in Canada. For the U.S. context, we call on the federal government, industry associations, and/or philanthropic funders to support an Indigenous learning institution to create one.
- In its Calls to Action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called upon all levels of government in Canada to fully implement Jordan’s Principle. Access to an internet connection for medical appointments and online educational and health services to support a child’s growth and learning underpin the spirit and intent of Jordan’s Principle. While health services should be delivered in person, the audio-visual clarity a high-quality internet connection offers could provide a backup option should a face-to-face meeting not be feasible. Therefore, we call on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) to integrate Jordan’s Principle with existing departmental mandates to ensure that all parents in Indigenous territories in Canada have the connectivity to access these services for their children.
4. Recognizing Indigenous Rights to Spectrum
- We call on the Governments of Canada and the U.S. to acknowledge that Indigenous Peoples have myriad needs for the natural resource called electromagnetic spectrum (“spectrum”), including but not limited to climate change monitoring and modeling, food sovereignty and security, health and safety, especially pertaining to missing and murdered Indigenous people, mental health and wellness, emergency management, education, economic development, revenue, and other priorities.
- We call on the relevant departments to immediately stop selling spectrum licenses and renewing permits on Indigenous traditional territories, and to acknowledge Indigenous rights to govern and manage the spectrum on and over their lands.
- Furthermore, those departments should promptly and unconditionally release unused spectrum licenses on and over Indigenous traditional territories for the use by and benefit of Indigenous Peoples.
- If Indigenous leadership chooses not to manage spectrum in their traditional territories, we call on federal governments to do so on the community’s behalf and turn over any potential revenue resulting from the use of that spectrum back to the community.
- We call on relevant government departments to conduct meaningful public consultation with Indigenous governments, community members, and mandated organizations on a recurring basis to discuss whether Indigenous needs for spectrum are being met. Governments should work with the mandated organizations in each traditional territory to find a mutually-beneficial path forward.
- We call on the Canadian and U.S. governments to take this action with the full collaboration of and engagement with, and accountability to, Indigenous Peoples and the public.
5. Developing an Indigenous workforce in networking
- We need a multi-faceted workforce development effort to strengthen capacity within communities to achieve digital equity. To that end, we call upon Indigenous/Tribal colleges and community colleges to work with communities and relevant technical organizations to codesign and implement appropriate educational programming that develops the technical capacity of Indigenous people of all ages. Formal education programs that aim to build technical capacity among Indigenous Peoples must be community-led and accessible, inclusive, and culturally competent.
- To ensure these learning opportunities are informed, safe, accessible, inclusive, and culturally competent, colleges should take an experiential approach as opposed to ones based entirely on classroom instruction. Programs should also incorporate remote learning and field experience for course credit, ensuring certification and accreditation can be transferable in their careers.
- Furthermore, a dedicated workforce development initiative will be conducive to well-paid employment opportunities for Indigenous community members, including youth. To ensure community members are aware of these opportunities, Indigenous/Tribal colleges and community colleges, as well as funding partners should undertake efforts to raise awareness of the opportunities in the networking field.
- Governments, the private sector, and the philanthropic community should commit to long-term (multi-year) funding for training initiatives. Such initiatives should have robust frameworks that support the development of community networks in all stages of its development, and be done in ethically and culturally respectful ways that promote the safety and well-being of rural, remote, and urban Indigenous territories.
- Funded activities should include an evaluation component that supports an environment of continuous improvement, and as a means to document and share best practices/lessons learned. Ideally, funders should budget for and include plans to transfer ownership of any technical resources used in instruction (such as infrastructure, devices, and so on) to participating communities.
- In the context of education and pedagogy involving Indigenous Peoples, these programs need to embody the concept of “nothing about us or for us, without us.” We ask that all network training initiatives include cultural sensitivity training requirements for non-Indigenous instructors to promote cultural competency in program delivery.
- We ask that funding opportunities include ongoing support for financially compensated digital navigators in Indigenous communities, similar to the support that Environment and Climate Change Canada provides for the Indigenous Guardians program. Digital navigators can help facilitate the outreach, digital literacy education, and awareness required as internet access is introduced and expanded within communities, as well as contribute local data for monitoring and evaluation of funded infrastructure and services and policy engagement.
The Indigenous Connectivity Institute is an initiative of Connect Humanity.