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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.


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

Special Issue: CI & Indigenous Communities in Canada—The K-Net Experience published on No Comments on Special Issue: CI & Indigenous Communities in Canada—The K-Net Experience

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

Table of Contents


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 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


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

Article: Transforming learning infrastructures in the social sciences through flexible and interactive technology-enhanced learning

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Budka, P., & Schallert, C. 2009. Transforming learning infrastructures in the social sciences through flexible and interactive technology-enhanced learning. In: Learning Inquiry, 3(3), 131-142.

The changing higher educational landscape in Europe creates new learning infrastructures and transforms existing ones. Students are thus provided with new possibilities and challenges. Through the case study of a newly developed common curriculum for the social sciences of a public university in Austria, this article discusses the interacting social agents, elements, and tools of a flexible and interactive technology-enhanced learning model. In doing so, the transnational, national, and local infrastructural conditions and challenges are critically examined from a socio-technological perspective. Selected evaluation and survey results highlight students’ learning practices, usage behavior, and suggestions to improve their learning situation. The article concludes that student-centered learning models focusing on flexibility and interactivity can support the stable implementation of a common curriculum and its technology-enhanced learning infrastructure for the social sciences at public universities with high student numbers.

Higher education – Learning – Infrastructure – Social sciences – Austria

Article: Indigener Cyberaktivismus und transnationale Bewegungslandschaften im lateinamerikanischen Kontext

Article: Indigener Cyberaktivismus und transnationale Bewegungslandschaften im lateinamerikanischen Kontext published on 2 Comments on Article: Indigener Cyberaktivismus und transnationale Bewegungslandschaften im lateinamerikanischen Kontext

Budka, P., Trupp, C. 2009. Indigener Cyberaktivismus und transnationale Bewegungslandschaften im lateinamerikanischen Kontext (Cyberactivismo indígena y paisajes de movimientos transnacionales en el contexto latinoamericano / Indigenous cyberactivism and transnational movements in the Latin American context), in J. Kastner & T. Waibel (eds.) „… mit Hilfe der Zeichen | por medio de signos …“ Transnationalismus, soziale Bewegungen und kulturelle Praktiken in Lateinamerika. Münster: LIT-Verlag, pp. 207-226.


Prozesse der Globalisierung beeinflussen vor allem jene Menschen, die an den Rand der Gesellschaft gedrängt werden, wie zum Beispiel ein Großteil der rund 30 Millionen Indigenen Lateinamerikas. Ausgeschlossen von politischen, soziokulturellen und ökonomischen Diskursen, wie sie über die Massenmedien geführt werden, verwenden Indigene Bewegungen im zunehmenden Maße Internettechnologien, um sich zu vernetzen, zu (re)präsentieren, Identitäten zu (re)konstruieren und aktivistisch tätig zu sein. Aufgrund eingeschränkten Zugangs zu Internettechnologien sind sie oftmals auf Akteure angewiesen, die ihre Anliegen vertreten und sich mit ihnen solidarisieren. Wie indigene Bewegungen im lateinamerikanischen Kontext transnational distribuierte Internettechnologien nutzen, adaptieren und praktizieren, wird aus kultur- und sozialanthropologischer Perspektive anhand der Zapatisten in Mexiko und der Mapuche in Chile in diesem Beitrag diskutiert.

Los procesos de la globalización influyen sobre todo a aquellas personas que están en el márgen de la sociedad, como por ejemplo una mayoría de los indígenas de latinoamérica. Excluidos del discurso político, sociocultural y económico como lo llevan los medios de masas, los movimientos indígenas utilizan cada vez más la tecnología del internet para conectarse en redes, (re)presentarse, (re)construir identidades y practicar activismo. Debido al restringido acceso a tecnologías de internet muchas veces dependen de actores que representan sus intereses y se solidarizan con ellos. En este artículo se discute desde una perspectiva de la antropología cultural y social de cómo los movimientos indígenas en el contexto latinoamericano usan, adaptan y practican las tecnologías de internet distribuidos transnacionalmente tomando como ejemplos el EZLN en México y los Mapuche en Chile.

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Report: CRASSH Workshop “Subversion, Conversion, Development”

Report: CRASSH Workshop “Subversion, Conversion, Development” published on 1 Comment on Report: CRASSH Workshop “Subversion, Conversion, Development”

Budka, P. 2008. Report on CRASSH Workshop “Subversion, Conversion, Development: Public Interests in Technologies”, Cambridge, 24-26 April.

From the workshop’s abstract:
As part of the “New forms of knowledge for the 21st Century” research agenda at Cambridge University, the workshop will explore why designers and developers of new technologies should be interested in producing objects that users can modify, redeploy or redevelop. This exploration demands an examination of presuppositions that underpin the knowledge practices associated with the various productions of information communication technologies (ICT). A central question is that of diversity: diversity of use, of purpose, and of value(s). Does diversity matter, in the production and use of ICT, and if so, why?

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