The sixth annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit kicked off today in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, bringing together Indigenous community members and leaders; network operators; researchers; and policymakers to focus on how Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada can expand access to fast, affordable, and sustainable Internet connectivity.
Organized by The Internet Society in partnership with Connect Humanity, the four-day, in-person summit will feature workshops, presentations, lightning talks and panel discussions on a range of challenges and opportunities Indigenous communities face as they work to establish both digital equity and digital sovereignty for tribal citizens.
In announcing the summit, Sharayah Lane, Senior Advisor of Community Connectivity at the Internet Society and advisory committee member of the Indigenous Connectivity Institute, captured the meaning of the moment:
The Internet Society has been organizing the Indigenous Connectivity Summit since 2017, but it has always been our goal to transition leadership of the event to the Indigenous communities themselves. Partnering with Connect Humanity and the Indigenous Connectivity Institute will further the goal of developing community-led solutions that will bridge the digital divide for Indigenous people across North America.
Organizers pointed to how Indigenous communities are among the most underserved in terms of Internet access in North America with less than one quarter of Indigenous Communities in Canada having access to broadband. In the U.S., 18 percent of Tribal reservations have no access to Internet service at all.
That is changing. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, both the Canadian and U.S. federal governments have committed billions of dollars to fund programs aimed at closing the connectivity gap in these communities.
Range of Topics and Policy Recommendations
Among the topics that will be covered at the summit include: broadband mapping, spectrum sovereignty, building off-grid networks and capacity building.
One important goal of the summit will be the creation of policy recommendations jointly developed by participants to guide advocacy efforts moving forward. Those recommendations will be released in the weeks following the event, summit organizers said.
ILSR has been closely involved with the Tribal Broadband Bootcamp trainings, an idea first conceived at a previous summit and which has since trained over 100 Indigenous leaders on building networks in their own communities.
At the summit this year, Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative will be in attendance, as well as ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative Senior Researcher Ry Marcattilio.
"Following the COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. and Canadian governments, as well as the philanthropic community, are finally starting to invest in closing connectivity gaps which disproportionately impact Indigenous communities," said Mark Buell, Director of Indigenous Programs for Connect Humanity.
But to make sure these funds are targeted toward the communities that need it most, Indigenous people need to be at the center of the development of policies, funding programs and infrastructure projects that affect their communities. The Indigenous Connectivity Institute is building the knowledge, community, and advocacy capacity so that Indigenous Peoples can build a digital future on their terms. And this year's summit will shape policy that will help turn the tide on decades of under-investment in Indigenous communities.