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Growing the Internet 8 October 2018

Indigenous Connectivity Summit – My Perspective

By Matthew RantanenGuest Author Director of Technology, Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association (SCTCA)

As the Director of Technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association I’ve been working with Native communities in San Diego County and Southern Riverside County of California in the United States for the past seventeen years. With a long background in Dot Com graphic design exposed to networking and web servers, the transition into technology was an obvious one.

A descendant of the Cree Nation with ancestors hailing from Norway and Finland may partially explain why I’ve been tagged a “cyber warrior for broadband.” I am 6’4” with long hair. Maybe it’s because I sketch in metal to build cyborg arms. But I believe it has more to do with the fact that I have lived in and among Southern California reservations since 2001, working with a team of local people, solving a myriad issues related to connectivity. We’ve come a long way, connecting thousands of homes to the Internet. Several thousand remain, but we are getting closer.

But more needs to happen.

The views, voices and knowledge of Indigenous people need to be included in the policy and tech that help build the Internet. If we’re not part of it, we’re literally written out of it.

So, yes, more needs to happen. A lot more.

I will be in Inuvik, Canada this week, at the second annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS), along with more than 140 other people just like me. People who have the same drive to see their communities connected. The value of coming together and the power of collaboration cannot be underestimated.

I attended the first ICS in Sante Fe, New Mexico in November of last year and it inspired me. Partnerships were formed. Relationships over technical and policy issues were forged. I’ve become passionate about it, and willing to dedicate my time and energy to be involved in a gathering of this nature. It’s so valuable to local communities, on the ground, trying to forge a new path, on their own, to create connectivity for themselves. This coming together allows those of us who have built networks in our communities, and have suffered all the tests that a task of this nature involves, to get into in-depth conversations about a problem that is universal in Indigenous communities worldwide.

These are not Canadian issues or American issues—they are global issues. And the only way to address them is to bring together the global Indigenous to share experiences and understand that we are not alone in our community with a lack of basic services. There are others in the same situation on other continents, in other countries, in other states, right next to us. A lot of momentum is gained when you get to join a group of people that look like you, and think like you and act like you, and have solved the same problems that you have staring you in the face.

There is an energy and passion in the Indigenous youth, to get things moving and solve the issues that they are living with and the barriers that face their communities. The Indigenous Connectivity Summit allows mentors, and accomplished network builders to join these young self-empowered individuals who seek the same successes for their communities, and to share their stories. Experience is valuable, but sharing that experience is where you start to make a difference. We can say, “we’ve built this network three and a half times over seventeen years and we’re still working on that last half to be a whole build.”

Why would I ever want to see another community just like ours jump into a task like that “cold”?

There are so many ways not to build a network, and we have identified so many of them, that at times, I wonder how we got it done. We were very determined. Sharing all of those pitfalls, and missteps with our Indigenous brothers and sisters who are inspired to connect their communities, might just remove enough barriers to ensure they still have the energy for creativity and innovation once they get their networks up and running. They won’t have spent their passion and drive on failed attempts. We learn from our mistakes, and so should others, so that they may be free to go further and make different mistakes, to share with the next wave of inspired communities.

When I’m at ICS, I tend to escape the thoughts of incumbent telco’s holding back their services from our communities. I don’t dwell on the policy fights that I have on funding opportunities for tribes, and restrictions to resources that have been intentionally/accidentally imposed on Indigenous communities from achieving our goals.

I will leave the ICS and feel satisfied that I’ve shared the experiences I’ve lived, the work that we’ve done. I will also feel pleased to know that the people that are there to learn will go back to their communities knowing that they can accomplish their goals, build their own networks, and feel self-empowered. To live in a community and see a problem for years, and decide to fix that problem, learn how to conquer it, build the solution and succeed, is the formula for self-determination and self-sustainability.

Let’s work together to build an Internet for everyone. Register for the Indigenous Connectivity Summit 2018, which takes place this October in Edmonton and Inuvik, CanadaYou can also find ever-growing resources on topics including community networks, cultural preservation, and Indigenous-driven access at the Indigenous Connectivity page.

Read more of our coverage of the Indigenous Connectivity Summit 2018.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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