OTTAWA—An Ottawa-based inter-American commission working to advance communications technologies for Indigenous peoples is calling on Canada to include an “e-readiness” program in the upcoming federal budget.
The commission’s president has written Finance Minister Jim Flaherty urging him to set aside funds to help Aboriginal communities make the most effective use of information and communications technologies (ICT).
“It’s not enough to just provide support for telecom companies to bring technology to the doorstep of our communities if people don’t know how to use it,” said Tony Belcourt, president of the Indigenous Commission for Communications Technologies in the Americas (ICCTA).
“What’s the purpose of having broadband if people don’t know how to use it and how to be self-sufficient in its use?”
Mr. Belcourt notes that greater access to and the appropriate use of ICT are vital for enabling Aboriginal communities to overcome poverty and build stronger economies.
But while many Aboriginal communities have found effective ways to use technology to address critical health, education, and economic issues, “this is unfortunately not the case for the vast majority.”
“Our people need to be prepared in the use and application of appropriate communications technologies if the infrastructure is to be of value to them.”
This includes assessing communities’ e-readiness, providing education and skills training, and augmenting entrepreneurship.
‘E-readiness,’ ‘e-indexing,’ ‘knowledge planning’ to stimulate economic growth
Bruce Hardy is president of Function Four, a Winnipeg-based Aboriginal research and development company that has been helping Aboriginal communities in the Canadian Prairie provinces do e-readiness assessments.
In conjunction with universities, governments, and the private sector, Function Four has developed an assessment model, called the E-index, to measure the current role of ICT for
“providing essential data, knowledge, and direction for organizations.”
For communities, Function Four conducts extensive consultations with the leadership and residents, including door-to-door assessments. It creates E-indices for the community based on factors such as infrastructure, skills, affordability, and utilization.
Taking into consideration the community’s goals, objectives, and plans for economic development, it provides a “knowledge plan” to show where specific investments should best be made to have the most economic impact.
“We’re finding that in rural areas in general we haven’t done a good job of finding ways to align technology and skills to actually have a significant economic impact,” said Mr. Hardy.
“We’re really good at setting up computers and at training, but not really good at finding entrepreneurial, innovative ways to stimulate economic development for Aboriginal communities.”
Function Four is looking for pilot communities to test out expanding E-indexing and e-readiness assessments to include organizations and individuals/occupational codes. It hopes to finish evolving the methodology by next fall and then will be ready to test.
Such a resource would make it quicker to assess a community based on the types of organizations it has, such as a bakery, call centre, or tourist attraction, for example, or compare an individual of a particular occupation against other people of the same occupational code.
This kind of assessment would be able to provide the “fundamental information to create wise economic investments from a policy, business, and occupation perspective,” Mr. Hardy said.
ICCTA resulted from Indigenous people’s growing interest in ICT following the 2003 World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva.
The commission was formed by the Indigenous peoples of South, Central, and North America. Its head office is in Ottawa, Canada.
“Canada has historically played a lead role in providing assistance worldwide for Indigenous peoples, especially in the area of information and communications technologies,” said Mr. Belcourt.