KO's work with K-Net acknowledged in INAC Minister Prentice's speech

Making the Most of Aboriginal Connectivity

Notes for a Keynote Closing Address by The Honourable Jim Prentice, PC, MP
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-status Indians

To the Fifth Annual National Aboriginal Connectivity and E-Services Forum, Government Conference Centre, Ottawa, Ontario - March 14, 2006

Thank you for that kind introduction. It gives me great pleasure to speak at the closing of the Fifth Annual Aboriginal Connectivity Forum.

Like anyone who’s just starting a new job, I have much to learn, and I appreciate the opportunity to find out more about the remarkable progress that Aboriginal communities continue to make with communications technologies. And I’m impressed to hear about the direct benefits that many Aboriginal peoples can access everyday via Internet.

Je constate que les groupes autochtones ont fait beaucoup de progrès depuis le premier forum sur la connectivité en 2001.

De toute évidence, les peuples autochtones ont atteint un niveau de compétence sans précédent dans l’utilisation des technologies numériques et ont développé des techniques raffinées d’utilisation de l’Internet.

Today, connectivity projects deliver a growing number of valuable and tangible benefits to Aboriginal peoples in remote communities. Telehealth projects improve access to medical consultations and diagnostic tools; e-learning enables students to complete their high-school diplomas, earn college and university credits, and acquire the skills and knowledge they need to qualify for job opportunities. Connectivity can also spur economic development, by bringing markets within reach of Aboriginal entrepreneurs, and can help to strengthen traditional cultures and revitalize ancient languages.

I’m convinced that forums such as this one play an important role in bringing the full potential of computer and satellite-based communications to First Nation, Inuit, Métis and Northern communities. And my conviction is reinforced by the high quality of work accomplished in the past two days.   

I congratulate the Forum organizers for their wise programming decisions. I believe their approach to the Forum helps break conventional thinking and inspire fresh ideas—and both are essential to sound long-range planning, especially in the rapidly evolving field of communications.

Aboriginal groups continue to develop innovative approaches to use new technologies in ways that benefit their communities. I share your view that each successful connectivity project helps improve the quality of life experienced by residents of Aboriginal communities.

Il reste encore beaucoup à faire pour assurer que les Autochtones puissent participer pleinement et équitablement à la prospérité du Canada. Il ne fait aucun doute que la connectivité peut avoir des répercussions positives importantes et durables sur la qualité de vie.

To ensure that a greater number of Aboriginal peoples can benefit from connectivity, though, we must overcome the challenges associated with the vast majority of projects. Common challenges include underdeveloped infrastructure, lack of community capacity,  limited coordination among public-sector agencies, and issues of sustainability.

Of course, many connectivity projects manage to overcome these obstacles and deliver a wide range of services to Aboriginal communities across Canada. Projects such as the Aboriginal Telehealth Planning Partnership and K-Net, and groups such as Nunavut  Broadband Development Corporation and Kativik Regional Government–to mention but a few–have all harnessed the potential of connectivity to deliver valuable benefits. I believe that successful projects manage to overcome the obstacles associated with connectivity by relying on three key strategies.

First, by responding to community demands and delivering real benefits; second, by featuring a significant level of local control and ownership; and finally, by being the product of collaboration among multiple partners. These strategies should inspire the design of future connectivity projects, although, on their own, they are no guarantee of long-term success.

Given the costs of Internet services in remote communities, the sustainability of projects is a common problem. Another issue is community capacity—residents of isolated communities must acquire the skills and expertise they need to design, implement and manage projects that deliver the necessary services.

However, the strategies used in successful projects can be readily applied elsewhere. We must encourage Aboriginal communities to consider their needs carefully. And we must make it easier to establish partnerships among communities, federal departments and agencies, Aboriginal organizations and the provinces and territories.

There’s no question that connectivity projects deliver precisely the kind of benefits that enable Aboriginal communities to thrive. We must do all we can to ensure that more communities can access the benefits associated with communications technologies.

Des collectivités autochtones prospères et auto-suffisantes peuvent apporter beaucoup au Canada, au point de vue social, économique et culturel.

Although I am unable to stay for the rest of the evening’s events, I look forward to hear about the results of your deliberations.

Thank you.