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The market model is failing indigenous peoples

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Without action, digital disparities will continue to widen

It’s widely recognised that access to technology is a super-determinant to wellness and success. Accordingly, connectivity is now a basic human right, alongside the utilities that we have long regarded as essential. And yet, as we watch society move online, we are leaving behind a quarter of a million First Nation people. In British Colombia, only 10 per cent of the homes in indigenous communities have access to the internet at home, and only 23 per cent overall. This compares with 37 per cent of rural communities, and 97 per cent in urban areas.

Why the disparity? Many of the barriers are systemic. Jurisdictional overlap between provincial and federal governments leaves indigenous peoples fighting for connectivity by themselves. There is a lack of co-ordination and no framework with which to measure the advancement of digital equity. Meanwhile the investment returns required by the market model are impossible to achieve. Without funding, the issue of affordable connectivity will never be solved.

At the First Nations Technology Council, our aim is to establish a sovereign voice for our community, one that recognises our traditions. Elders are extremely important in our culture and our ‘digital elder’, Glida Morgan, embodies the principle that the involvement of all generations is welcome and needed. Our commitment is to the intergenerational reclamation of our stewardship of physical, and now virtual worlds, and we have to connect ancestral knowledge to the designs of the future in a balanced and eco-system conscious way. In practical terms, we offer digital skills programming to over 3,000 indigenous people, designed for and by indigenous people themselves. We are also leading a Sector Market Labour Study and drafting Canada’s first ‘Indigenous Framework for Innovation and Technology’.

We believe that, post Covid-19, we must take the opportunity to think differently about our future and who’s designing it. The capacity of indigenous communities to adapt to digital disruption is essential to the transition to the innovation economy, but indigenous peoples don’t have access to western levels of power and influence. Neither the First Nations Technology Council, nor similar not-for-profit organisations, receive funding. We need to ensure that indigenous peoples are not left behind, that our rights under the ‘UN declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples’ are upheld, and we are given the chance to transform the digital sector as well as our communities. We ask for action. We ask to be included. We ask you to be an ally.

Denise Williams is Chief Executive Officer of the First Nations Technology Council. She serves as President of the Urban Native Youth Association, an advisor on innovation to the Governor General of Canada, Status of Women Canada’s Indigenous Women’s Circle, on the board of the First Mile Connectivity Consortium, Vancouver Economic Commission and on the Simon Fraser University Board of Governors as Alumni-in-Order. This blog is extracted from Denise’s ‘Spotlight Talk’ at the IIC’s International Regulator’s Forum on 5th October 2020. You can view her presentation here.

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The market model is failing indigenous peoples - without action, digital disparities will continue to widen.

Denise Williams Denise Williams Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Technology Council, Canada
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