Digital and Data Roundtable Summary: October 9-19, 2018—National Calls

Hosted by Mark Podlasly
Area of Focus: Indigenous People

Highlights of Discussion

Digital and data transformation has the potential to enable greater inclusion and economic participation for Canada’s Indigenous People. Many Indigenous Communities in rural and remote areas can benefit from tech solutions including e-health supports, online education programming, greater access to government programs and increased participation in the global digital economy. However, many Indigenous People face barriers to participation, largely underpinned by a lack of affordable and reliable digital infrastructure. In order to ensure benefits from the digital economy reach all Indigenous People we need continued supports for connectivity, affordable internet, and access to technology.

We must also consider that the issues related to digital transformation, including innovation, future of work, privacy and data ownership, may not mean the same thing to Indigenous People. Indigenous People are best placed to solve their own challenges and must be empowered to find solutions that fit their core values. This is particularly true around data ownership where many Indigenous People value the principles of Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession (OCAP) and the goal of data sovereignty. 

Investments in technology, including Clean Tech, provide economic opportunities for Indigenous Communities. We must ensure that technology investments are inclusive and viewed through the lens of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). We must also ensure that Indigenous youth are provided the skills and training they need to succeed and that Indigenous businesses have access to funding and opportunities to thrive and grow.

Key Opportunities / Considerations / Challenges

Affordable Access and Digital Infrastructure

Access to affordable and reliable digital infrastructure is critical for Indigenous People, particularly those living in rural areas or on reserve. Infrastructure, both backbone and last-mile, is essential for the inclusion and participation of many Indigenous Communities, allowing for remote access to education, health supports, government resources, and participation in an interconnected, digital economy. This is a key step that must be addressed now, as a catalyst to the deeper issues of future of work or innovation challenges.

Many Indigenous Communities are in rural and remote areas with small populations, and may not pose a strong ‘business case’ for service providers. Big telecom companies are able to drive faster, more efficient services in urban centres, however, using a business case driven approach means that many Indigenous Communities will be left out. There must be a plan for inclusion of Indigenous people or the connectivity gap will widen. We must also re-examine how we measure connectivity. In remote communities where housing is limited and many residents live in crowded homes, making decisions based on ‘how many households can be connected’ might not adequately capture the need. Many of these communities also face extreme poverty which limits to extent to which they are able to afford computers, internet access, and other technologies.

Definition of Innovation

Innovation and economic development have become synonymous, with a focus on increasing global competitiveness. This corners the idea of innovation in to a box which might not be helpful. Indigenous people think and talk about innovation differently. To many, innovation is linked to the ability to survive, adapt to their surroundings and approach challenges in an interconnected way. To look at the effectiveness of innovation we must consider that it is more than just GDP and exports. We must also quantify innovation in the human context.

Technology as Driver of Economic Development

Many Indigenous People understand that technology has potential to drive greater economic development. Technology opens up possibilities for Indigenous Communities, particularly those in rural and remote areas, as it allows people to work remotely, providing flexibility for people to maintain their roots while participating in the digital economy. It also allows people to start businesses within their own community. However, to do so requires reliable and affordable access to the internet and meaningful supports for Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Impact on Indigenous Businesses

Many Indigenous Communities have smaller organizations on the ground with the knowledge and capacity to enact solutions, however, may lose out on funding opportunities to larger businesses. Large incumbent companies who are well funded can provide better infrastructure (eg. Fiber, 5G). While good for the community, this can wipe out smaller Indigenous-owned infrastructure groups like ISPs.

Funding Opportunities

Access to flexible funding and capital is a barrier for Indigenous entrepreneurs looking to start or expand their business. While programs exist, they can be difficult to navigate or leave gaps in funding needs. Government procurement also offers opportunities for Indigenous businesses, however small businesses, including freelance technologists, are often at a disadvantage. The application process is often too onerous and time consuming for SMEs and many smaller organizations do not bother applying. We must make it easier to work with smaller businesses perhaps by rethinking the scale and scope of procurement projects.

Developing and Retaining Skilled Talent

Indigenous People need access to the skills and training necessary to succeed in a digital economy. Receiving exposure to technology and training in STEM skills at an early age is crucial. Internships and work-integrated learning opportunities will help give young people experience and knowledge on opportunities available to them. We must also build capacity within Indigenous Communities through partnerships and programs that support communities to further reinforce digital skills and literacy.

Some Indigenous businesses also face challenges with ‘brain drain’, where Indigenous technologists and other skilled talent are pulled to larger corporate organizations that can pay better.

Diversity and Inclusion

Indigenous People are still underrepresented in the tech sector as well as in STEM education. Work must continue to ensure greater diversity and inclusion in our education system, in training opportunities, and in the sector itself. We must also help create a welcoming environment for Indigenous People and ensure people understand what it means to have Indigenous People working with them through increased cultural sensitivity training.

Data Collection / Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession (OCAP)

The principle of OCAP, which ensures that any data is collected and owned by Indigenous Communities, is endorsed by many Indigenous Communities. However, OCAP is underpinned by the idea of choice, and that individual committees should be the ones to decide for themselves how their data is treated. Initiatives are underway to systemically work with Nations around how their data is collected, aggregated, used and owned.

Many communities envision true data sovereignty for Indigenous People, where all their data is held by them and all decisions about its use are made by them. However, many recognize that compromises must be made. For example, smaller Nations would not have large enough datasets to offer meaningful results and may need to leverage other resources. Privacy is another consideration and more education is needed on what privacy means, and what considerations must be made when interacting with large institutions, such as banks, that require personal information.

Overall, there must be greater education and training around OCAP principles for government and businesses including how it works within the context of Canadian law and what it means for working with Indigenous Communities.

Find Own Solutions

Duty to Consult and respect for our country’s diversity means that Indigenous voices should be included in conversations and initiatives to address issues like digital connectivity from the onset, not after the fact. For local solutions, Indigenous People are best placed to respond to their own needs and address issues in a way that is aligned with their values.

Indigenous People are also working together to find their own solutions around data ownership. Nations are driving the process and choosing to come together to advance common goals. Communities want to ensure that how data is treated is representative of their perspective and values. This is why they want control and accountability to remain within their own communities.

Indigenous People have different views and approaches to many challenges, including how to address digital and data transformation. We must all work together to build connections between Indigenous partners and other stakeholders including all levels of government, academia and industry. When developing or moving in to a region with a large Indigenous population, businesses should consult to ensure Indigenous voices are part of the decision making process. Businesses should also look at the principles of OCAP as a tool when collaborating or consulting with Indigenous partners as this provides a foundation to better work together. OCAP helps remove barriers, providing a clear understanding of expectations.   


Indigenous Digital Strategy

Addressing digital and data transformation is a complex, multi-dimensional challenge with no easy solution. This is not something that can be addressed through one program or piecemeal funding programs. This leads to incremental outcomes that don’t address the larger issue. Solutions must come from Indigenous People who come together to build a unified Indigenous Digital Strategy that identifies the community’s needs and goals.

This strategy would work together with national and provincial strategies and be built in a holistic way, recognizing that all pillars of a digital strategy – infrastructure, connectivity, future of work, privacy and trust – intersect. Government could support by providing funding for Indigenous Communities to collect the data they need and facilitating partnerships that bring Indigenous leaders together to identify the risks and benefits of digital and data transformation, and build solutions together.  

Core Funding for National Indigenous Data Centre

Current data collection practices in Indigenous Communities are done on a five year survey cycle. In order to ensure long-term skills capacity, and commit to data-driven decision making, the government could look at moving towards core-funding for Indigenous Data Centres including a National Institution that works with regional and Nation level partners.

Changes to Program Evaluation

For larger government programs, such as the Connect to Innovate Program, it is important to have Indigenous representation on the evaluation panel. Programs could also look at bringing in third party evaluators with expertise in specific regional areas to evaluate local proposals. This could help ensure winning bids are truly representative of the local community’s needs.

Inspiring Indigenous Youth

Indigenous youth need greater interconnectedness with technology and the opportunities it can bring. Industry, government, academia and communities could work in partnership to create mentorship and training programs that target Indigenous youth. For example, a program could be developed that supports Indigenous technologists to connect with schools and communities to host workshops or learning opportunities to showcase “cool” technologies. This can help inspire Indigenous youth to pursue opportunities they might have not known about otherwise.

Participant List

  1. Clear Sky Connections
  2. First Nations Information Governance Centre
  3. First Nations Technology Council
  4. Animikii