Indigenous Connectivity

7 takeaways from the Indigenous Connectivity Summit

7 takeaways from the Indigenous Connectivity Summit

The sixth annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit wrapped up two weeks ago in beautiful, blustery Winnipeg, Manitoba where Indigenous community members and digital advocates came together in person for the first time since 2019 to work to advance fast, affordable and sustainable internet for Indigenous communities. 

You can watch the plenary sessions now on-demand and explore some of the presentations that the speakers shared with us throughout the week.

We thank the people of Treaty 1 for their warm hospitality, it was a week to remember. And as the MC for this year’s Summit (a real honor), here are my 7 takeaways:

1. Indigenous Peoples are rightsholders — not (only) stakeholders.

As Rhea Doolan (Nisga’a Nation, First Nation’s Technology Council) reminded us, Indigenous Peoples are rightsholders—not just stakeholders. Whether regarding spectrum, broadband connectivity projects, or broadcast communications policy, Indigenous Peoples do not stand idly by. We craft, implement, and evaluate connectivity initiatives for our respective communities and are active members in the digital equity movement. This is true across Turtle Island.

Colonial governments and corporations ought to abandon their paternalist, deficit-based approaches and work with our communities in good faith. Meaningful consultation and engagement are essential to forming good partnerships. In the context of settler-Indigenous relations, the principles of OCAP (ownership, control, access, possession) provide a practical framework that can assist in reaffirming Indigenous sovereignty and strengthening Indigenous self-determination. 

2. Teamwork makes the dream work. 

Participants frequently spoke of the need to work together and how multistakeholder arrangements can bridge digital divides. If a solution to a real or potential issue lies outside a community—maybe requiring an international scope—then the avenue ought to be explored. At the same time, a regulatory framework should be in place that can hold contractors to account. We heard stories of outside “assistance” engaging in exploitative and extractive methods which resulted in trust being damaged or altogether broken. These experiences reverberate beyond a single community and often have intergenerational effects. Ultimately, connectivity projects must have a foundation of respect and be rooted in the spirit of collaboration.

3. We need to think holistically, and act for 7 generations forward. 

When it comes to connectivity, we need to shift our collective mindset from a practical frame to one of holistic (or systems) thinking. We must consider the cultural, social, economic and environmental impacts of the internet and recognize their interdependence.

Fast, reliable and affordable internet access is key to improving health and well-being for Indigenous communities. And we must build this connectivity to be robust and sustainable. Many still have the impression that the internet is something ethereal, when in fact a vast physical infrastructure connects us. This global network spans Mother Earth, requiring an enormous amount of her resources to sustain. On the road to digital equity, we must harmonize our needs to share information and data with an environmental approach that foregrounds the climate crisis.

No doubt, the internet needs to be Indigenized, as our stories and perspectives can offer solutions to some of the world’s most challenging problems. But we need to do so in a good way, one which promotes the health and well-being of humans and non-humans alike! Following First Nations’ principles of Seven Generations, we must contemplate how we build our technologies of today for posterity.

4. Digital literacy and meeting people where they’re at.

There can be no “pan-Indigenous” approach to connectivity or digital equity; solutions must be regionalized, if not localized. Each community has its own unique set of challenges, strengths, and dynamics.

For example, digital literacy addresses a plethora of topics/issues: device operation; connecting to the internet; computer and network troubleshooting; media literacy; online safety; safeguarding data and intellectual property; privacy and cybersecurity. Digital literacy is empowering and assists in community development — but it needs to be done thoughtfully to meet the varying needs within different communities.

There are generational factors; the needs of youth and Elders in these communities often differ, sometimes radically. Throughout the ICS, participants said, “we have to meet people and communities where they’re at.” Digital navigators or technology stewards, ideally being from the communities they serve, would help in capacity building efforts. We need specific sets of training and quality programming to help fill gaps.

5. The Indigenous Connectivity Institute can be transformative.

Throughout the summit, participants expressed an appetite for a digital Indigenous coalition. The Indigenous Connectivity Institute, hosting the Summit for the first time, is making this idea a reality. The organization, with an advisory committee consisting of Indigenous representatives from across the continent, is building a stronger, unified front in the quest for Indigenous digital equity. 

Coming off the back of the Summit, the Institute is already working to advocate on spectrum sovereignty (more on that in the next takeaway) as well as the other policy recommendations coming out of the Summit. The Institute provides a central organizing force that can help generate new knowledge and case studies, build new connectivity models, and advocate for and mobilize around policy to close digital divides. Attendees agreed that the Institute will protect and promote the interests of Indigenous groups and elevate our presence in the digital equity conversation.

6. Give back the spectrum.

Spectrum sovereignty is on the horizon. For Indigenous Peoples, this would mean owning and controlling the airwaves and signals flowing over/within our ancestral territories. With Darrah Blackwater — a leading advocate for spectrum sovereignty — presenting at the Summit, the issue was a central focus. We heard from community members, chiefs, lawyers, and academics who all mentioned the same thing: at a minimum, Indigenous Peoples in rural and remote areas need fast and affordable access to the internet — and spectrum is likely to play a major part in bridging the digital divide. Affordable access, as well as ownership and control over spectrum would strengthen the economic, political, and social capital of Indigenous Peoples.

As a next step, the Indigenous Connectivity Institute is coordinating a joint submission to a consultation from the Canadian Government department responsible for spectrum management, to ensure spectrum sovereignty on their agenda.

7. Allyship and “buy-in” from non-Indigenous partners.

Indigenous Peoples continue to build, resist and resurge on their own volition. And while much of this difficult work comes from within the communities themselves, our settler/non-Indigenous allies have incredibly important roles to play. They can help generate awareness around systemic inequities, both with their elected representatives and with the broader public. They can also keep lines of communication open by simply asking the question: how may I help? As was frequently heard at the ICS, bridging the digital divide means “we need all hands on deck.” Part of being an ally means learning about the on-going effects of colonialism (which impact all of us), and about the histories and cultures of Indigenous Peoples.

The full Summit is available to watch now on-demand.

Stay tuned for more from the Indigenous Connectivity Institute as we move this work forward and work with Indigenous communities to create a digital future on their terms.

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