In November 2017, the Internet Society hosted the inaugural Indigenous Connectivity Summit in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The event brought together community network operators, Internet service providers, community members, researchers, policy makers, and Indigenous leadership to work together to bridge the connectivity gap in indigenous communities in North America. One of the participants shared her story.
Denise Williams, Coast Salish from Cowichan Tribes on Vancouver Island, began her career as an ESL teacher, with the idea that she would travel the world teaching English. A chance encounter on a bus – “I’m from a small town so I talk to whoever is in my vicinity,” says Williams – served as an entry point to work as a policy analyst for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, which led to Education Technology work at the First Nations Education Steering Committee. “I learned the way that digital technologies either advance or detract from a community’s ability to nurture curiosity in their youth,” says Williams. “I came from no understanding of networks to it becoming my life’s work. I don’t know if i found it or it found me.”
In 2015, Williams took the reigns of the totally defunded First Nations Technology Council, and through strategic planning and vision, has grown the organization’s programs in talent development, connectivity, information management, and technical services. The success of FNTC’s programs isn’t just based on vision, but also on hard work and attention to detail. “Ideas like let’s go around the province and visit the whole community can seem daunting,” says Williams, “but to me it is simply the only way. We’re going to be doing speed testing. We’re going to interview. We’re going to do training. We’re going to visit all 203 nations in person.”
Participation Indigenous Connectivity Summit is key to Williams’ vision. “I really believe in creating space for people to come together and learn from each other,” Williams explains. “I recognize that in British Columbia there are maybe some specific technological, geographical, and political challenges, but I am convinced they they have been solved in other places in the world. This conference brings together people who are talking about things from the grassroots level to the highest level of implementation of change.”
“Sometimes you’re in the eye of the storm,” Williams concludes. “This is an opportunity to zoom out.”
Mark your calendar! The Indigenous Connectivity Summit 2018 takes place this October in Edmonton and Inuvik, Canada. You can also find ever-growing resources on topics including community networks, cultural preservation, and Indigenous-driven access at the Indigenous Connectivity page. Join us!
Photo ©Minesh Bacrania