April 2, 2015

Indigenous-Settler Relations and Community-Based Technology Development

Course Outline
This course explores the relationships between settler colonialism, the growth of digital networks and applications, community development, and digital self-determination. It re-frames problems like the ‘digital divide’ by illustrating how Indigenous peoples and communities are taking ownership and control of solving them.

Partners of the First Mile Connectivity Consortium at work

Digital Literacy courses in the Dinjii Zhuh (Gwich’in) community of Tetlit Zheh(Fort McPherson) in Summer 2018. Photo credit: Hanne Pearce

It recognizes that this work faces significant challenges. Historic and ongoing inequalities restrict the abilities of individuals and communities to effectively use digital technologies. However, people are also undertaking many projects of self-determination, including in the area of technology development. This course explores these initiatives, focusing on how they represent expressions of Indigenous resurgence and innovation in the emerging network society, in which we increasingly use digital connectivity and ICTs for various aspects of our lives – from economic and community development, to accessing public and government services like education and health care, to connecting with friends, neighbours and family members.

The course units include a variety of digital resources where you can explore content in more detail. These include links to videos, readings and websites. We invite you to tell us about other resources, contribute ideas, ask questions, make comments or suggestions! We have designed this course as a living document. That means that we expect it to change over time, as we continue learning.

Topic 1 – Settler colonialism in historical and contemporary contexts

We begin the course by discussing some of the conditions that shape technology development in Indigenous communities. It is important to consider historical and contemporary contexts, since they both hold implications in the ways that technologies are diffused, accessed, managed, and used. This helps us critically analyze the ways that the past continues to impact our daily lives and digital futures.

Topic 2 – Residential schools and Indigenous organization, resistance and resilience

In this Unit, we look at an example of how Indigenous people are struggling with the structures and effects of settler colonialism through expressions of Indigenous resurgence. We focus on attempts at reconciliation following the closing of Canada’s last residential school in 1996. The residential school system extends back to the early days of the country, and links to past and ongoing pieces of colonial legislation, such as the Indian Act. The important work of reconciliation and healing linked to these processes faces challenges as well as successes. It highlights strong examples of Indigenous organization, resistance, and resiliency, as well as of the multi-generational impacts of colonial policies and practices.

Topic 3Indigenous media development in Canada

Our second example of Indigenous resilience and resurgence comes through an examination of Indigenous media in Canada. Both in the past and continuing today, mainstream media can exclude the voices of Indigenous peoples, and portray their communities and experiences in negative ways. Media content was often generated in urban centres far from the lived realities of people in remote and rural communities. At the same time, Indigenous peoples have always created their own radio, newspapers, and TV shows, while also becoming involved in mainstream media. The energy of these storytellers continues today, through an explosion of ‘new media’ and digital content. This includes social media and user-generated platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as emerging technologies like Virtual and Augmented Reality.

Topic 4 – Conceptual frameworks: Social shaping of technology

In this topic, we shift our focus to explore some of the ‘big picture’ questions involved in technology development more generally. We will introduce some of the theories around these issues. Science and Technology Studies is an academic field of study that explores the ways that people interact with technologies. In particular, the theory of the “social shaping of technology” offers us a way to think about these processes. We discover that technologies are impacted by both social action and physical constraints. Critical authors like Robert McChesney and Marissa Duarte show us how power is always involved in the ways that technologies are designed and used. The social shaping approach to studying technology does not reflect a level playing field. Instead, it is structured as a field of conflict and compromise between different groups, from powerful multinational corporations to local communities.

Topic 5 – The network society and development of broadband networks and applications: Introducing the Kukenah Network

Scholars are researching how the social shaping of technology plays out across political, economic, cultural, and social contexts. As broadband networks and applications increasingly saturate our lives, they are being shaped and re-shaped by different forces that reflect many of the inequalities that persist in our offline lives. In this section we explore these issues and look at how people and communities are taking on their own technology development projects.

Topic 6 – Putting the ‘last-mile’ first: Digital divides and alternatives

As we have seen throughout this course, powerful forces established in the past continue to shape the ways that our societies and communities are structured today. The network society contains many inequalities. The term ‘digital divides’ describes the challenges that some individuals and groups face in accessing broadband networks and digital technologies. However, these challenges do not dictate the futures of individuals or communities. Rather, they are opportunities and constraints that can be negotiated and re-shaped through people’s innovation and creativity. In this unit, we will learn more about the First Mile approach, which focuses on how people are addressing digital divides through community-driven technology development projects. Indigenous peoples around the world, including remote and rural First Nations in Canada, are actively engaged in bridging the digital divides they face. In doing so they are putting the ‘last-mile’ first.

Topic 7 – Supporting First Mile initiatives: Community-based and Indigenous research methods

In this unit we cover community-based research methods, with a focus on research with Indigenous communities. The goal of this approach is to consider how these research methods can support First Mile development initiatives. Conditions of settler colonialism and the historical role of social scientists and other researchers in supporting them informed reforms that resulted in unique approaches to research. Community-based Indigenous research projects stress collaboration: outcomes benefit communities as well as researchers and the institutions they work for. In Canada, this approach is captured in principles like Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession (OCAP) and reflected in partnerships between Indigenous and university-based researchers. These projects are documenting the work going on in communities, in order to share ideas, challenges and best practices.

Topic 8 – Building and sharing capacity: Operations and management

In this topic we explore the operations and management of First Mile broadband systems. Specifically, we look at the ways that Indigenous peoples and communities are taking on the ownership and management of broadband networks and digital technologies. Case studies from Northern Ontario, Eeyou Istchee and the Northwest Territories demonstrate how remote and rural First Nations are developing their own cellular phone, voice-over-IP telephone, and fibre optic systems. Importantly, these projects require a degree of local capacity to ensure that they can be operated and maintained by community members. Community champions and digital innovators play a key role in sustaining this work. We consider the benefits of these projects, as well as some of the challenges their operators face.

Topic 9 – Digital applications for community and economic development

Emerging technologies interact with community and economic development through broadband-enabled applications. First Nation governments are using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to gain increased control of service delivery in areas like health, education, politics, culture, and economic development. In this topic, we look at how various applications are supporting the delivery of public and community services. Examples like e-Health, online education, and cultural programs enable us to explore the potential and the challenges of shaping applications that reflect the self-determination of Indigenous communities.

Topic 11 – Co-creating digital literacies in Indigenous contexts

While rapidly expanding connectivity services and applications can support the delivery of a host of public services, economic development opportunities, they may also bring challenges such as an influx of inappropriate content. It is important to learn from Indigenous community members about potential impacts, so that digital literacy resources can mitigate risks and take advantage of the potential of increased connectivity. A strong desire to document and share Indigenous cultures and languages reflects an interest in exploring how newly available digital tools will support such work. At the same time, people recognize the potential changes that may come. In this context, Indigenous organizations and communities are partnering with researchers to co-create digital literacy concepts and resources shaped to the interests, desires and needs of diverse Indigenous peoples.

Topic 12 – Policy engagement and advocacy

The deployment, operations and sustainability of Indigenous-led technology development projects requires a complex balance between local innovation, regional cooperation, and supportive policy and regulatory conditions. Indigenous connectivity advocates in Canada and around the world have worked hard to reform policy and regulatory frameworks to gain access to public funding for non-profits, cooperatives, and community-based organizations. This topic explores these efforts, demonstrating the different ways that Indigenous peoples are contributing to the development of appropriate policies and regulations.

Topic 13 – Towards an e-Community strategy

This final topic introduces the e-Community strategy and explores how it is being implemented in practice. We look at how organizations like the Assembly of First Nations and Keewaytinook Okimakanak’s K-Net Services in Ontario developed this initiative. The e-Community strategy was adopted by First Nations leadership through several resolutions passed by the national Chiefs-in-Assembly. In 2013, it was also articulated in a statement by regional First Nations technology organizations in Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada on First Nations Broadband Infrastructure and Operations Policy. We conclude by examining how the e-Community strategy is being set up in First Nations in Quebec and Ontario.


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