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Paper: Internet for remote First Nation communities in Northwestern Ontario

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Budka, P. (2017). Internet for remote First Nation communities in Northwestern Ontario. Paper at “3rd CoRe Workshop – Mobility and Remoteness: What is the Connection?“, Vienna, Austria: University of Vienna, 26-27 May. Full Paper (PDF)

Introduction

In 1994, the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Kuhkenah Network (KO-KNET) began to develop and provide internet infrastructures and services for the remote First Nation communities in Northwestern Ontario, Canada. Public and private institutions have been reluctant to invest in this “high cost serving area” with no year-round road access, where residents have to travel by plane for medical treatment or to meet with relatives and where people have to move to southern towns to continue their high school education or to find work. In close cooperation with the region’s First Nation communities, KO-KNET has built local broadband internet infrastructures to provide services such as cell phone communication, e-health, online learning, videoconferencing, and personal website hosting. Overall aim of this initiative has been to give people a choice to stay in their remote home communities.

For my first field trip to Northwestern Ontario in 2006, I decided not to fly but to take the train from Toronto to Sioux Lookout, Northwestern Ontario’s transportation hub. This ride with “The Canadian”, which connects Toronto and Vancouver, took about 26 hours and demonstrated very vividly the vastness of Ontario. I could not believe that I had spent more than an entire day on a train without even leaving the province. Finally, I arrived at Sioux Lookout, where I would be working with KO-KNET, one of the world’s leading indigenous internet organizations.

After my first day at the office, KO-KNET’s coordinator wanted to show me something. We jumped in his car and drove to the outskirts of the town where he stopped in front of a big satellite dish. Only through this dish, he explained, the remote First Nation communities in the North can be connected to the internet. I was pretty impressed, but had no idea how this should really work.

While the satellite dish was physically visible to me, the underlying infrastructure of interconnected digital information and communication systems was not. In the weeks and months to follow, I learned about the technical aspects of internet networks and broadband connectivity, about hubs, switches, and cables, about towers, points of presence, and loops. And I found out that internet via satellite might look impressive, but is actually the last resort and a very expensive way to establish and maintain internet connectivity for remote and isolated communities.

KO-KNET satellite dish, Sioux Lookout
KO-KNET satellite dish, Sioux Lookout

Continue reading Paper: Internet for remote First Nation communities in Northwestern Ontario

Article: From marginalization to self-determined participation

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Budka, P. 2015. From marginalization to self-determined participation: Indigenous digital infrastructures and technology appropriation in Northwestern Ontario’s remote communities. Journal des anthropologues – Special Issue “Margins and Digital Technologies”. No. 142-143: 127-153.

Abstract

This article discusses, from an anthropological perspective, the utilization of digital infrastructures and technologies in the geographical and sociocultural contexts of indigenous Northwestern Ontario, Canada. By introducing the case of the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Kuh-ke-nah Network (KO-KNET) it analyses first how digital infrastructures not only connect First Nations people and communities but also enable relationships between local communities and non-indigenous institutions. Second, and by drawing on KO-KNET’s homepage service MyKnet.org, it exemplifies how people appropriate digital technologies for their specific needs in a remote and isolated area. KO-KNET and its services facilitate First Nations’ self-determined participation to regional, national, and even global ICT connectivity processes, contributing thus to the “digital demarginalization” of Northwestern Ontario’s remote communities.

Text (PDF)

Paper: Indigenous futures and digital infrastructures

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Budka, P. 2014. Indigenous futures and digital infrastructures: How First Nation communities connect themselves in Northwestern Ontario. Paper at “13th Biennial Conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)”, Tallinn, Estonia: Tallinn University, 31 July – 3 August.

Introduction

“Now […] if the Aboriginal People could […], retain their tradition, take the technology and go that way in the future. That would be good.”
(Community Development Coordinator and Educational Director, Bearskin Lake First Nation, 2007)

For my first field trip to Northwestern Ontario in 2006, I decided to take the train from Toronto to Sioux Lookout instead of flying. This ride with “the Canadian”, which connects Toronto and Vancouver, took me about 26 hours and demonstrated very vividly the vastness of Ontario. At some point, I could not believe that I have been spending more than an entire day on a train without even leaving the province. But finally I arrived at Sioux Lookout, Northwestern Ontario’s transportation hub, where I would be working with the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Kuhkenah Network (KO-KNET), one of the world’s leading indigenous internet organization.

After my first day at the office, KO-KNET’s coordinator told me that he wants to show me something. So we jumped in his car and drove to the outskirts of the town where he stopped in front of a big satellite dish. Only through this dish, he explained, the remote First Nation communities in the North can be connected to the internet. I was pretty impressed, but had no concrete idea how this really works. So while the satellite dish was physically visible to me, the underlying infrastructure was not. During my stay, I learned more about the technical aspects of internet networks and connectivity, about hubs, switches and cables, and about towers and loops. And I learned that internet via satellite might look impressive, but is actually the last resort and the most expensive way to establish internet connectivity. I also began to realize how important organizational partnerships and collaborative projects are and what important role social relationships across institutional boundaries play. In short: I learned about the infrastructure which is actually necessary to finance, provide and maintain internet access and use. Infrastructure, KO-KNET’s coordinator told me “really defines what you can do and what you can’t do” (KO-KNET coordinator 2007). And this has fundamental consequences for the futures of the region’s indigenous people.

Within this paper I am going to discuss digital infrastructures and technologies in the geographical and sociocultural contexts of indigenous Northwestern Ontario. By introducing the case of KO-KNET I analyse (1) how internet infrastructures act as facilitators of social relationships and (2) how First Nations people actively make their (digital) futures by taking control over the creation, distribution and uses of information and communication technologies (ICT), such as broadband internet. This study is part of a digital media anthropology project that was conducted for five years, including ethnographic fieldwork in Northwestern Ontario and in online environments.

In media and visual anthropology, anthropologists are, among other things of course, interested in how indigenous, disfranchised and marginalized people have started to talk back to structures of power that neglect their political, cultural and economic needs and interests by producing and distributing their own media technologies (e.g., Ginsburg 1991, 2002b, Michaels 1994, Prins 2002, Turner 1992, 2002). To “underscore the sense of both political agency and cultural intervention that people bring to these efforts”, Faye Ginsburg (2002a: 8, 1997) refers to these media practices as “cultural activism”. “Indigenized” media technologies are providing indigenous people with possibilities to make their voices heard, to network and connect, to distribute information, to revitalize culture and language, and to become politically engaged and active (Ginsburg 2002a, 2002b). Particularly digital media technologies offer a lot of these possibilities to marginalized people (e.g., Landzelius 2006a).

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Article: Social media in remote First Nation communities

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Molyneaux, H., O’Donnell, S., Kakekaspan, C., Walmark, B., Budka, P., Gibson, K. 2014. Social media in remote First Nation communities. Canadian Journal of Communication, 39(2): 275-288.

Abstract

Community resilience in First Nations includes ties to people both inside and outside the community, intergenerational communication, the sharing of stories, and family and community connectedness. This study, based on a survey of Internet users in the Sioux Lookout region of Northwestern Ontario, explores the link between social networking sites and community resilience. The region is home to some of the most isolated First Nation (indigenous)communities in Canada. Cultural and familial links between these communities are strong, yet until recent use of the Internet, maintaining regular communications to strengthen cultural ties was challenging. This study examines the links between travel and communication online, the ways in which social media are used to preserve culture and maintain communication, and the implications of social networking for community resilience.

La résilience communautaire chez les Premières Nations se base sur les rapports à autrui tant au sein de la communauté qu’au-delà de celle-ci, la communication intergénérationnelle, le partage d’histoires et la solidarité familiale et communautaire. Cet article se fonde sur un sondage d’utilisateurs d’Internet dans la région Sioux Lookout du Nord-ouest de l’Ontario pour explorer les rapports entre les sites de réseautage social et la résilience communautaire. La région Sioux Lookout compte certaines des communautés autochtones les plus isolées au Canada. Les affinités culturelles et familiales entre ces communautés sont fortes, et pourtant, avant l’utilisation récente d’Internet, le maintien de communications régulières pour resserrer les liens culturels n’était pas facile. Cette étude examine les rapports entre voyages et communication en ligne, les manières dont on utilise les médias sociaux pour préserver la culture et assurer les communications, et l’impact du réseautage social sur la résilience communautaire.

Free chapter: “We were on the outside looking in”: MyKnet.org – A First Nations Online Social Environment in Northern Ontario

Free chapter: “We were on the outside looking in”: MyKnet.org – A First Nations Online Social Environment in Northern Ontario published on No Comments on Free chapter: “We were on the outside looking in”: MyKnet.org – A First Nations Online Social Environment in Northern Ontario

Bell, B., Budka, P., Fiser, A. 2012. “We were on the outside looking in”: MyKnet.org – A First Nations online social environment in northern Ontario. In A. Clement, M. Gurstein, G. Longford, M. Moll & L. R. Shade (Eds.), Connecting Canadians: Investigations in Community Informatics (pp. 237-254). Edmonton: Athabasca University Press.

“In 2000, one of Canada’s leading Aboriginal community networks, the Kuh-ke-nah Network, or K-Net, was on the verge of expanding into broadband services. (For more on K-Net, see chapter 14.) K-Net’s management organization, Keewaytinook Okimakanak Tribal Council, had acquired funding and resources to become one of Industry Canada’s Smart Communities demonstration projects. Among the innovative services that K-Net introduced at the time was MyKnet.org, a system of personal home pages intended for remote First Nations users in a region of Northern Ontario where numerous communities have lived without adequate residential telecom service well into the millennium (Fiser, Clement, and Walmark 2006; Ramírez et al. 2003). Shortly thereafter, and through K-Net’s community-based Internet infrastructure, this free-of-charge, free-of-advertising, locally supported, online social environment grew from its core constituency of remote First Nations communities to host over 30,000 registered user accounts (of which approximately 20,000 represent active home pages). …”

free chapter download: http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120193

Vortrag: IKT als Werkzeuge zur Reduktion erzwungener Mobilität

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Vortrag im Rahmen der 7. Tage der Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie:Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologien (IKT) als Werkzeuge zur Reduktion erzwungener Mobilität” (PDF)

Aus dem Inhalt:

  • Indigene in Kanada & im Nordwestlichen Ontario
  • Sitation von First Nations im Nordwestlichen Ontario
  • Indigene IKT im Nordwestlichen Ontario: KO-KNET
  • Reduktion erzwungener Mobilität durch IKT
  • IKT-Anwendungspraktiken: Isolation vs. Sozialität
  • Indigene IKT: Ergebnisse aktueller Studien

Indigene IKT: Ergebnisse aktueller Studien:

  • IKT-Praktiken beeinflussen …
    a) (kulturelle) Identitätskonstruktion & -verhandlung
    b) (soziale) Vergemeinschaftungsformen & -prozesse
    c) Kommunikationspraktiken
  • Entscheidend sind …
    a) Kontrolle von & Bezug zu IKT
    b) Soziokulturelle, geographische & politische Kontexte/Rahmenbedingungen/Möglichkeiten

Report on the MyKnet.org and Facebook Online Survey, April – December 2011

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Budka, Philipp. 2012. Report on the MyKnet.org and Facebook Online Survey, April-December 2011.
http://meeting.knet.ca/mp19/course/view.php?id=7

Abstract

This report presents and discusses findings of an online survey which aims to contribute to the understanding of First Nation online practices. By looking at two popular web services, MyKnet.org, a regional First Nation homepage environment, and Facebook, the global leader in online social networking, it becomes clear that for the First Nation people of northwestern Ontario the internet is the most important communication medium. These two online services have become ubiquitous media technologies that are used to connect and represent people in this remote region. They are well integrated into people’s daily lives and practices; not only as communication tools, but also as subjects of discussion. As participants to this online survey (N=117) indicate, the popularity of MyKnet.org and Facebook is mainly due to the fact that those online services are easy and free to use for keeping in touch with family and friends. Besides maintaining and fostering social connections, people also utilize MyKnet.org and Facebook to share stories about cultural activities as well as music and videos, which is considered an important cultural practice. Survey results suggest further that while Facebook has replaced MyKnet.org in terms of online communicating and connecting, the Aboriginal online service is still being used for creating and designing web presences as well as for local information gathering and sharing.

The full report (PDF)

Links
MyKnet.org research website
MyKnet.org
KO-KNET

Special Issue: CI & Indigenous Communities in Canada—The K-Net Experience

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The Journal of Community Informatics Special Issue: CI & Indigenous Communities in Canada – The K-Net (Keewaytinook Okimakanak’s Kuhkenah Network) Experience

Table of Contents
http://ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/issue/view/27

Editorial

The K-Net Experience: Thematic Introduction to the Special Issue
Brian Beaton, Susan O’Donnell, Adam Fiser, Brian Walmark

K-Net, Community Informatics and Service Delivery: An Evolving Paradigm
Michael Gurstein

Articles

MyKnet.org: How Northern Ontario’s First Nation Communities Made Themselves At Home On The World Wide Web
Philipp Budka, Brandi Bell, Adam Fiser

How K-Net and Atlantic Canada’s First Nation Help Desk are Using Videoconferencing for Community Development
Mary Milliken, Susan O’Donnell, Elizabeth Gorman

Out from the Edges: Multi-site Videoconferencing as a Public Sphere in First Nations
Fenwick McKelvey, Susan O’Donnell

Representation and Participation of First Nations Women in Online Videos
Sonja Perley

Implementation of Information and Communication Technology in Aboriginal Communities: A Social Capital Perspective
Javier Mignone, Heather Henley

Case Studies

Managing Changes in First Nations’ Health Care Needs: Is Telehealth the Answer?
Josée Gabrielle Lavoie, Donna Williams

Notes from the field

In Search of Community Champions: Researching the Outcomes of K-Net’s Youth Information and Communications Technology Training Initiative
Kristy Tomkinson

A Community Informatics Model for e-Services in First Nations Communities: The K-Net Approach to Water Treatment in Northern Ontario
Michael Gurstein, Brian Beaton, Kevin Sherlock

Reports

Enabling and Accelerating First Nations Telehealth Development in Canada
Valerie Gideon, Eugene Nicholas, John Rowlandson, Florence Woolner

ON-LINE RESOURCES about Keewaytinook Okimakanak, the Kuhkenah Network (K-Net) and Associated Broadband Applications
Brian Beaton

K-Net in Sioux Lookout

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Nach fast 30-stündiger Zugfahrt endlich in Sioux Lookout angekommen, statte ich natürlich K-Net, dem Internet Service und Netzwerk Provider des Keewaytinook Okimakanak Tribal Councils, einen meiner ersten Besuche ab. Die Organisationen hat nun das gesamte Gebäude in der King Street übernommen und auch sein Team mit neuen MitarbeiterInnen verstärkt.

In Sioux Lookout sind im Winter einige Geschäfte und Restaurants nicht geöffnet, da diese entweder nicht für die eisigen Temperaturen ausgerüstet sind oder sich auf den Sommertourismus spezialsiert haben. So ist etwa das Kino, oder das Restaurant Knobby’s geschlossen. So geht es im Winter in der Stadt etwas ruhiger zu als im Sommer, auch wenn es genügend kulturelle Veranstaltungen oder Möglichkeiten gibt sich etwa sportlich zu betätigen.

Zurück in Kanada

Zurück in Kanada published on No Comments on Zurück in Kanada

Meine Forschung führt mich wieder zurück nach Kanada und noch dazu im Winter – was kann es schöneres geben?

Bevor ich mich per Zug in den Nordwesten Ontarios – die Nishnawbe-Aski – aufmache, verbringe ich ein paar Tage in Toronto, treffe Freunde und betreibe Literaturrecherchen in der Robarts Library der Universität von Toronto.

Leider ist es nicht allzu kalt, so zwischen -3 und +3 Grad Celsius, und der Schnee in der Großstadt Toronto verwandelt sich so relativ rasch in braunen Gatsch und rießige Wasserlacken, die oft nur sehr schwierig zu umgehen sind.

Nach meinen obligatorischen Besuchen kulinarischer Natur in China Town und in einem englischen Pub – Rindfleisch-Nudel-Suppe bzw. Fish and Chips – spazierte ich in der Stadt umher, besuchte die Casa Loma, das Winterfestival vor dem Rathaus und die Queen Street, auf der auch im Winter kräftig eingekauft wird.

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