Access to Internet Advances “Economic Reconciliation” for Indigenous Communities

December 11, 2020

Written by: Mily Mumford

The United Nations have now declared access to technology and the web a human right - so why do 75% of Indigenous communities in Canada not have access to broadband internet?

In our latest episode of our podcast, “Best of the WWEST,” (Episode 87) Dr. Lesley Shannon interviewed Denise Williams (MBA), the CEO of the First Nations Technology Council, an “Indigenous-led not-for-profit working to ensure that Indigenous peoples have the tools, education and support to thrive in the digital age." In the episode Williams discusses how the Technology Council helps to decrease the digital divide between many Indigenous communities and the rest of Canada by providing education, support, and advocating to solve a major reason for the divide- a lack of access to internet. And this has only become clearer during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for youth in school. 

Source: First Nations Technology Council

“Now after COVID-19 hundreds of thousands of Indigenous kids are not at school, or were not at school for at least the first round of the pandemic, [their] education was not continuing and they weren't able to do homeschooling like maybe some kids in Vancouver are able to do, or like in urban centres across the country. The issues were present before COVID-19, and COVID-19 exacerbated those issues and created new ones,” says Williams. 

A reason why this lack of accessibility still occurs is how funds that are allotted at the government level, are dispersed.  “Thankfully, government is working to be responsive to how to flow resources to underserved communities to address this, however, the challenge is that in an effort to do that quickly, often those funds go to the incumbent service providers - the big telecommunications companies - in Canada, and this is part of why the digital divide exists.”

Williams goes on to discuss in the episode that the companies that provide internet services in Canada often do not see the “return on investment” in bringing internet infrastructure out to remote, small communities being high enough to justify building it. But because of this, these remote, but many, communities still go without access. 

For many of us with “digital privilege,” another factor that Williams mentions, the idea of not being able to access internet and some kind of device to communicate and “compute” on, whether that be a smartphone, tablet, computer or all the above, is unimaginable. Those of us with this privilege have been able to access these tools as soon as they were readily available to the general public, whether in our own homes or at least through schools and workplaces. Those of us in the Generation Z and Millennial generations have been using them most of our lives. Even before the pandemic pushed most of our lives online for the foreseeable future, education around and access to technology and the internet is required for the advancement of Indigenous sovereignty and economic reconciliation for Indigenous peoples in Canada. It is one of the (many) necessary steps to start repairing the damage that has been done to these communities.

Source: First Nations Technology Council

“The reason it’s so important is that this is how you participate in our economy right now” says Williams. “I don’t necessarily agree with how we are organizing ourselves as people, as humans, our economic systems, the global nature of them and the massive nature of our governments globally, especially since COVID-19. I have a lot of questions about their fragility, and if they are really serving people. On the Technology Council we've spent a lot of time mapping how access to technology will accelerate every aspect of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and we’ve also mapped how access to technology will support each of the articles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Source: Pexels

With technology being so required now to access education, jobs and other resources to live and survive in the current global society, Williams is concerned about the intergenerational effect the current barriers to technology is having and will have on Indigenous communities.

“The reason why it’s now considered a human right, which I think is correct, is because now this is an intergenerational issue,” states Williams. “I spoke about the thousands of kids at home in K-12 and post-secondary who don’t have access to internet at home right now, so are not advancing their education perhaps the same way as students who do. But if we think about even pre-COVID, the tens of thousands of Indigenous kids who don’t have access and haven’t since they were born…It just means that the people who are designing our future which is highly technologically reliant and integrated don’t have connection to a massive amount of the population who don’t have this basic access. It is troublesome to me that we could be looking at generations of Indigenous people who haven’t had the access and won’t have the skills or the confidence necessary to succeed in post-secondary or careers that require this sort of digital literacy.” These are exactly the issues and barriers that the First Nations Technology Council is trying to eliminate, under Denise Williams’ leadership, and the leadership of many other Indigenous technology professionals and educators. 

To learn more about the First Nations Technology Council visit:

To learn more about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples visit the UN's website.