Duane Ningaqsiq Smith
The Government of Canada put forward a vision to build Canada as a global centre of innovation through, among other means, ensuring “rural and remote communities across Canada are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the digital age”. This means that all Canadians should have equitable access to broadband services. The Canada Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has “established a universal service objective that Canadians – in rural and remote areas – should have access to voice and broadband Internet services.” Recently, the federal and Yukon governments announced the building of a $79 million fibre optic network (800 km) to connect Inuvik and Dawson City, Yukon. In the Spring of 2017 the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link (MVFL) was completed. This 1,154 km fibre optic link, the first high-speed connection above Canada’s Arctic Circle, connects Inuvik with High Level, Alberta and was an initiative of the Government of Northwest Territories. The MVFL line will be continued along the newly-opened Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Coast.
These two broadband infrastructure projects will serve as redundant connections for one another and will put an end to widespread Internet outages in our Northern communities. While this is an excellent step forward in helping address the widening broadband gap in our remote, Northern, and Indigenous communities, further investment, partnerships, and projects are required to ensure these communities can take advantage of and have affordable access to this infrastructure.
Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) was established in 1984 pursuant to the Inuvialuit Final Agreement (IFA) to represent the rights and interests of Inuvialuit (Inuit of Canada’s Western Arctic). We have the responsibility to continually improve the economic, social and cultural well-being of our people in accordance with the objectives of the IFA within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and beyond. One of the goals of the IFA is to “preserve Inuvialuit cultural identity and values within a changing northern society.” IRC understands that learning and communication amongst today’s generation of beneficiaries is very different than those of our elders. With access to an overabundance of information almost instantly, IRC is working to take advantage of new technologies that address this goal of the IFA.
IRC’s Cultural Resource Centre has developed mobile language applications in all three Inuvialuit dialects to preserve and teach future generations of Inuvialuit; partnered with the University of Alberta on the Digital North Library project to increases the accessibility of Inuvialuit cultural resources, such as audio collections, video collections, language resources, and photos through an online platform. As well, Inuvialuit CEDO (Community Economic Development Organization) has partnered with the Gwich’in Tribal Council and Aurora Research Institute to utilize innovative technology in the traditional arts. A 12-week course was delivered in the Spring introducing local Indigenous artists to computer and other technologies to enable them to increase the reach of their art. The goal is to make this course and technology available to the people in remote communities, and to do that dependable high speed Internet service is key.
This Fall, IRC will be launching the online e-Learning component of our IFA-101 initiative. This online platform will provide a new generation of Inuvialuit, and Canadians at large, with a greater understanding of the IFA, its history, and the steps along the way, which led to the signing of this land claim agreement. Without access to adequate broadband Internet speeds, Inuvialuit have a more difficult time accessing these many cultural tools and online platforms. Education, business, research, and health supports all depend now, in part, on high-speed broadband connectivity.
Inuvik was identified as an ideal geographic location for tracking and receiving data in real-time from polar-orbiting satellites. The Government of Canada developed the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility which is linked to the MVFL. This convergence provides opportunities in remote-sensing, scientific research, shipping and navigation, environmental monitoring and climate change studies. An example of this is the Arctic Spatial Data Infrastructure, which is a cooperation between eight Arctic nations with the aim of providing access to geographically related Arctic data, digital maps and tools to facilitate monitoring and evidence-based decision-making.
IRC recognizes the need to prepare its people to move into the knowledge economy. With the presence of the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF) and increased interest in applying remote sensing and UAV drone technology to truth satellite images, drone training and future GIS training are just part of the business plan for Igutchaq UAV. This newly formed business is training drone pilots and analysts to provide the technical services required to deliver the highest quality UAV services to the ISSF and its partners, as well as to researchers active in the western Arctic. Access to dependable, consistent high-speed Internet is essential to being able to deliver top level training and services throughout the region.
This region wants to take advantage of these new technologies and high-speed Internet bandwidth, not only to aid in the preservation of our cultural identity and values, but also to enable Inuvialuit to become equal and meaningful participants in the Northern and national economy and society.
The federal and territorial governments need to look at more permanent, sustainable broadband infrastructure programs; programs that focus specifically on regional Indigenous community connectivity and capacity development.
Internet connectivity is now a prerequisite to economic growth and resource development (both renewable and non-renewable). Companies now operate in a connected way and in order for the region to be competitive and attract prospectors, explorers and tourists – that service must be available. ◉
Duane Ningaqsiq Smith is Chair & CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.
1. See CRTC. Closing the Broadband Gap (2017). Available at: https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/Internet/Internet.htm.