First Nations taking control of providing Internet to their communities

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021 4:18pm


Image Caption

Derrick Houle, CEO, and Chelsea Mills, director, both of the Mamawapowin Technology Society.


“It’s inspiring to see communities across the country taking Internet access into their own hands. More than ever, it is an essential service and CIRA is committed to help improve access for all.” — Byron Holland, president and CEO of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For the second time since 2019 members of the Samson Cree Nation in Alberta will benefit from a substantial grant from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA).

It was announced in late July that CIRA would be providing a total of $1.25 million in grants this year to support communities across the country that have a significant need for improved Internet access.

Samson Cree Nation and nearby Ermineskin Cree Nation located in Maskwacis, Alta. will benefit.

Two years ago the Mamawapowin Technology Society (MTS), a registered not-for-profit society, was awarded $100,000 by CIRA to provide better wireless Internet at Samson Cree Nation.

MTS has now been awarded an additional $100,000 in CIRA funding this year to not only improve service in Samson, but to expand and bring more reliable, high-speed connectivity to Ermineskin.

“Because it’s a blend of technologies, we can get them online fairly quickly, within a month,” said Derrick Houle, MTS’s CEO.

MTS will provide Internet in areas of the two First Nations that for the most part are not serviced by other providers and expand upon existing services from other providers that do currently operate in the First Nations.

MTS officials said other plans tend to be costly with some only having speeds of five megabits per second. And often connections tend to be spotty at best.

With its grant money, MTS plans to provide speeds of up to 300 Mbps for the immediate future. And it anticipates increasing speeds in the future.

Chelsea Mills, who is a director with MTS, was not surprised to see her society once again be the recipient of some CIRA funding.

“I guess we had quite a bit of success with the 2019 grant,” Mills said. “(CIRA officials) seemed quite happy with what we did. And we thought we did great too.”

MTS founder and chief technology officer Bruce Buffalo offered his thoughts on the latest funding.

“The CIRA grant means we can continue expanding our infrastructure in the community,” Buffalo said. “The services provided by other ISP's in Maskwacis are not worth the high prices they are charging.”

Now MTS will be able to provide some more cost-effective Internet services.

“MTS is continuing to strive to meet or exceed connectivity options within the community and the CIRA grant enables further connectivity options and service areas,” Buffalo added.

Byron Holland, CIRA’s president and CEO, is looking forward to hearing the success stories that are anticipated following this year’s funding announcement.

“It’s inspiring to see communities across the country taking Internet access into their own hands,” Holland said. “More than ever, it is an essential service and CIRA is committed to help improve access for all.”

Holland was impressed with all of the applicants who were awarded funding.

“This year’s recipients all have great ideas to help their communities and we’re proud to support them,” he said.

A total of 14 projects across the country were funded by CIRA this year through its Community Investment Program.

CIRA has proved a total of $9.2 million for a total of 185 projects across the country since the program was launched in 2014.

CIRA is the national not-for-profit best known for managing the domain .ca

In 2021 CIRA’s community program focused in part on providing grants for Internet-related projects in Indigenous and rural communities as well those that benefited students.

As a result, eight of the 14 funding recipients that were selected will improve fortunes in Indigenous communities, including three groups from British Columbia and three others from Ontario that were funding recipients that will benefit Indigenous communities.

The B.C. recipients included the First Nations Technology Council (FNTC), the Great Bear Initiative Society and the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG).

The FNTC will co-create a digital roadmap for First Nations leaders in an effort to have their communities achieve digital equity in areas including connectivity and infrastructure, as well as tech and innovation leadership.

The Great Bear Initiative Society is hoping to eventually deliver high-speed Internet throughout coastal First Nations.

And the TNG is joining forces with other companies to hopefully implement a cellular and broadband network in its First Nation.

Fund recipients in Ontario included Long Lake #58 First Nation, Hamilton’s McMaster University and CatalystsX Network Communities Inc.

Long Lake will utilize its money on its communications connection and security project.

McMaster University’s project will see the creation of a pop-up learning hub in Six Nations. This centre, which will provide off-campus high-speed Internet and connections to student support staff, is not only for Indigenous students attending McMaster but also for those at Mohawk College in Hamilton and Six Nations Polytechnic in Brantford.

And the project for CatalystsX Network Communities Inc. will see resources created to meet digital literacy needs in four First Nations communities in northern Ontario.

Saskatchewan’s lone funded project will benefit those in the primarily Métis village of Ile-a-la-Crosse with its digital literacy program.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.