First Nations Innovation & Decolonization Using ICT | Q&A with Dr. Rob McMahon

March 09, 2015

What motivated you to present on the topic of “First Nations Innovation and Decolonization using ICT”? 

Across Canada, expressions of Indigenous resurgence are taking place in a range of fields, including culture and language revitalization, economic development, and education. My postdoctoral research with the First Nations Innovation project at the University of New Brunswick studies these initiatives in the area of information and communication technology (ICT). Partnering with regional non-profit First Nations broadband organizations in Quebec, Ontario and Atlantic Canada, we are researching how First Nations people are shaping and using ICT. Many people reading this will know about Idle No More, which is one example of how Indigenous peoples use digital ICT. The First Mile website showcases other ways that First Nations are appropriating these tools. In this presentation, we provide an introduction to some of this work.

Please tell us about your research and the research field you have chosen. How did you gain interest in the subject? 

I am interested in working with Indigenous communities and organizations to research how ICTs might support the decolonization process. This topic draws attention to the sometimes hidden ways that technologies impact our lives – a perspective that I learned from my supervisors at SFU’s School of Communication. Peter Chow-WhiteRichard SmithRobert Hackett and others taught me how the technical and political decisions embedded in ICT hold deep implications for our societies. Indigenous peoples have done a lot of thinking about these challenges over the years, in part due to their efforts to grow and sustain their societies in the face of settler colonialism. Their innovations provide us all with important lessons in areas of resource management, economic sustainability, and community engagement.

What should the audience expect from your upcoming lecture on “First Nations Innovation and Decolonization using ICT”? 

The First Nations Innovation team is trying something a little different in this presentation. We want to use the lecture to both introduce our research and to demonstrate how Indigenous organizations are developing and using ICT. I begin with a presentation that illustrates how broadband infrastructures, non-profit organizations, governance structures, policy and regulatory frameworks, and digital applications combine in Indigenous technology development. Then Dr. Susan O’Donnell (Primary Investigator), Brian Beaton and Ashley Julian from the First Nations Innovation project join us to discuss their work. Despite a challenging four-hour time difference, they will ‘beam in’ from New Brunswick through a videoconferencing link managed by Lyle Johnson at K-Net Services, a non-profit First Nations owned and operated broadband provider based in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.

What are you currently working on? 

Right now I am partnered with the First Nations Education Council and two Algonquin First Nations in Quebec: Timiskaming and Long Point. Local researchers are conducting household surveys about technology attitudes and use. Data from these surveys will be used to contribute to local ICT workshops and community technology plans, including for a new high school in Long Point. Along with co-creating knowledge on how Indigenous peoples are encoding elements of self-determination in digital ICT, we are exploring how to conduct community-based research in ways that build local research capacity.

Anything else you would like to share? 

Despite the efforts of the groups mentioned above, many Indigenous communities are losing out on Canada’s digital economy given a lack of robust, affordable connectivity. Regulatory developments next year may help address this situation. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission is reviewing the Basic Service Objective for telecommunications in Canada. These public hearings will determine whether broadband access is designated an essential service. In this context, Indigenous broadband providers argue that they should be supported to address the digital divides their communities face. These non-profits are already busy shaping, designing, accessing, and using digital networks and applications – but at present, few sustained policies and regulations support their work. In this context they are mobilizing to advocate for resources to support their digital self-determination for years to come.

Dr. McMahon will be presenting on March 17 at 7PM as a part of the Lecture Series on Aboriginal Issues, you can find the event details here.


Rob McMahon received his PhD in 2013 from the School of Communication at SFU, where his dissertation received the Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation Medal. He is now working as a postdoctoral fellow with the First Nations Innovation Project at the University of New Brunswick. This project is a partnership with three regional non-profit First Nations technology organizations: K-Net Services in Ontario; the First Nations Education Council in Quebec; and Atlantic Canada’s First Nations Help Desk. Through this work Rob is engaged in community-based research projects with the Algonquin communities of Timiskaming First Nation and Long Point First Nation in Quebec, as well as the Kahnawake Education Centre. These projects are examining some of the diverse ways that people in these communities are developing and using ICTs to support economic and community development.

In Summer 2015, Rob will join the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta. As an Assistant Professor in Community Informatics he will continue to partner with First Nations and Inuit communities to research the development and appropriation of digital networks and ICT. He is also engaged in the First Mile Connectivity Consortium (FMCC), a national association of non-profit First Nations and Inuit broadband service providers. The FMCC aims to reform digital policy to support community-driven broadband development.

Publications and resources:

Latest/Related Updates


Stay up to date

Get the latest on upcoming events by subscribing to our newsletter below.