Following their second annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS) that was hosted in Inuvik this past October, the Internet Society has issued a report that highlights how improved Internet connectivity can empower Northern Indigenous communities, beyond just strengthening their download speeds.
Mark Buell, the North America regional bureau director for the Internet Society, which is an American non-profit, said that if rural and remote Indigenous communities in the North had access to better quality Internet, everything from their economic situation to their online businesses and education would vastly improve.
“A lot of what we heard at the summit was that connectivity would enable youth to complete high school in their community and not have to travel to Inuvik and away from their family,” Buell said. “That would certainly increase graduation rates and opportunities for young people in the North.”
Featured in the report and a hot topic of discussion amongst the locals at the summit was the notion of how the Internet can be used as a tool to preserve and promote Indigenous languages and culture.
“If you could have communities easily able to work with each other and share best practices on how to preserve culture and language and promote that to the rest of the world as who they are, that goes a long way in ensuring Indigenous self-determination, ensuring cultural practices are preserved and ultimately result in healthier more robust communities,” he said.
According to their website, the Internet Society, “is a global cause-driven organization” that is “dedicated to ensuring that the Internet stays open, transparent and defined by you.”
With a number of Northern communities’ connectivity issues rooted in satellite dependence, the report noted community networks would be the “ideal solution” to such issues.
“We’ve done this work around the world and we found that what’s most successful for small, isolated communities are community networks,” Buell said.
Community networks are locally developed and managed, he said.
However, Buell stressed that no initiatives should take place without “meaningful consultation and in full participation with Indigenous communities, in particular, those in the North.”
He added that such projects are much more sustainable and successful in the long run if they’re developed with the full and equal participation of community members.
“When you look at a very rural or remote community, the community has to be behind the project to ensure that it’s successful,” said Buell.
While helping to improve Internet access in the North is high on his agenda, Buell said developing a national broadband strategy to ensure that all Canadians have access to broadband Internet service is just as important.
“The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has said that what’s needed is a $4 billion commitment from the federal government to improve (Internet) access across Canada, including the North,” he said.
In order for Canadians to be full participants in the global digital economy, Buell said that a push to invest in the country’s Internet infrastructure is crucial.
“There’s a whole nation-building piece to this. When we’re building Canada as a country, we built a railroad, which cost a tremendous amount of money, but it’s how we built a country…the time has come for the next big nation-building project,” he said.