A new Institute to advance Indigenous connectivity
Photo Credit: Chris Mitchell (taken at Tribal Broadband Bootcamp)
When it comes to internet connectivity, Indigenous Peoples are some of the most excluded in the world. Unique challenges of policy, geography, economics, and history have led to digital deserts in and around Indigenous communities. Meanwhile, local leaders have too often been left out of the decision making processes around solutions to challenges in their communities.
That has to change. And so, to that end, we’re delighted to launch the Indigenous Connectivity Institute — an Indigenous-led community-driven initiative to consolidate and build upon the outstanding efforts of those who have been working to ensure Indigenous Peoples can build a digital future on their terms.
A Indigenous-led, community-driven institute
We’re at a unique point in history with a real opportunity to accelerate progress. It appears that there is finally the will in the United States and Canada to bridge digital divides and deliver fast, reliable, affordable internet access for everyone. At the same time, there’s a growing community of people across the continent who are committed to connecting Indigenous communities and doing so in a way that puts Indigenous Peoples in charge of their digital futures.
When an opportunity like this exists, we need to do everything we can to harness it. That’s why Connect Humanity has stepped up to create a new organization to strengthen these efforts. We’re building the Institute to cultivate a community of leaders and practitioners working to close the digital divide by sharing knowledge, shaping policy, and helping people learn the skills to build and run their own internet networks.
With key partners, we will jointly host the Indigenous Connectivity Summit which, since 2017, has been the primary annual convening for those working on Indigenous connectivity across the continent. And we will also take the lead role running Tribal Broadband Bootcamps, a program that brings Indigenous leaders together to learn how to build broadband networks and take that knowledge back to their community.
Video: Reflections from Spring 2022 Tribal Broadband Bootcamp, which took place in Southern California (courtesy of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)).
Connect Humanity will incubate the Indigenous Connectivity Institute and provide institutional and financial support until the Institute has the resources and capacity it needs to be an autonomous organization, which we hope to achieve by 2024. In the meantime, we’ll be developing our roster of activities, in partnership with our Advisory Council. Advisory Council members will be announced in the coming weeks, and we will appoint an Indigenous Executive Director by the end of 2022.
The road to digital sovereignty
In late May, we held a series of kick-off calls to gather early supporters of the Institute. We heard from Matt Rantanen who shared the origins of the Tribal Broadband Bootcamps, and from John Kealoha Garcia, Minister of Commerce in the Nation of Hawai’i, who, having attended the first Broadband Bootcamp, has been developing community broadband networks to connect underserved tribal communities in Hawaii.
John spoke about the power of digital sovereignty. For communities that have been separated from their lands and had their autonomy threatened for hundreds of years, this sovereignty is paramount. The power to own and operate our own communications networks, rather than be renters of traditional operators which have often shown little interest in serving Indigenous communities, can be transformative.
We can make this happen. We know how to design, build, and finance community-first networks. This needs to be a joint effort, building a powerful voice for Indigenous communities to drive this change. And we need all the help we can get — be it feedback, participation, or financing.
If you want to talk about how you can support the Institute, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.