Reflections from the Indigenous Connectivity Summit

Phil Mozejko - 19 December 2022

My journey through the Master of Arts in Communications and Technology program (MACT) has been anything but expected or mundane.

Case in point, my internship with Connect Humanity and attending the Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS), the latter having offered a flurry of firsts: (finally) visiting Winnipeg, MC’ing a four-day event (phew), and participating in a sui-generis type of conference that opened my eyes to the world of Indigenous digital equity. If someone asked me to describe the summit, I’d say it’s an unconventional blend of wisdom, weirdness and wonderful. No summary, only alliteration!

Now, I’m from Alberta, and it’s pretty flat here. Yet, as we sailed over Treaty 1 territory and descended upon Richardson airport, my first thought was, “Winnipeg is flush!” The Great Plains are a particular kind of beauty, to be sure, and the combination of vast geometry with fall colours is curiously captivating. From above, the aggregate of manicured plots stretches as far as the eye can see.  

Aerial view of Winnipeg

Each year, the ICS brings together Indigenous leaders, community members, community network operators, Internet service providers, researchers and policymakers with a common goal: connecting Indigenous communities to fast, affordable and sustainable Internet. The stakes are pretty high. But any worries I had leading up to the summit dissipated soon after the event started. People were incredibly kind and laid back. I quickly realized the ICS isn’t only about connectivity or bridging the digital divide per se. It’s more about community and kinship. You see relationality play out in real-time, with Indigenous peoples from all over sharing similar but distinct stories about their quests for digital equity. One of the presenters (the extraordinary Darrah Blackwater) even created a piece of ceremonial art—a sweetgrass braid with fibre laced through it—specifically for the summit, symbolically apropos of the event and our time together. Worldviews and knowledge systems were conceptually and materially interwoven; I witnessed the suturing of a human network first-hand, and connectivity was the binding thread.

A sweetgrass braid

The ICS provided us with two major opportunities. First, we built and strengthened relations with each other, and second, we collaborated on finding solutions to some of the more major or pressing connectivity issues. Much of the time these activities were one in the same. While critique and criticism were part and parcel of the ICS, the need for actionable suggestions was just as (if not more) important. The culmination of our work is a set of policy recommendations, cocreated by participants of the ICS, that will be made available to the public in the coming weeks. In addition to my duties as MC, I also acted as rapporteur; the policy recommendations were born out of robust consultations (which I took notes on) vis-à-vis Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders from public and private sectors, as well as from philanthropy. One soon realizes, everything about connectivity—access, equity, literacy, capital, capacity, people, knowledge—is related; it’s impossible to treat any aspect in isolation. The hip bone is connected to the leg bone! Any talk of Indigenous digital equity will necessarily involve (an often long-winded, free flowing) discussion around Indigenous rights, social and economic justice, restitution, self-determination and colonialism, among other things. If we hope to address any of these interrelating issues, our process must be grounded in mutuality, and in creating meaningful and lasting relationships.

Attendees at the conference pose in a group photo

My research in MACT is somewhat personal. I’m from amiskwaciwâskahikan, the city colonially known as Edmonton, which is in Treaty 6 Territory. I’m of mixed European and nehiyaw (Plains Cree) ancestry myself, and I’m a member of Saddle Lake Cree Nation (Treaty 6). In some sense, I know the challenges and opportunities the internet and ICTs present for our diverse peoples. Our peoples are aware of the power and influence of these technologies, that much is clear. Our world is in a time of tremendous flux, in a tension between heterogeneity and universality, and I’m exploring that in my research, specifically in the context of Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island.

Author selfie in front of a sign that reads Winnipeg

And that is where the strength of MACT lies — in its openness and interdisciplinarity. Students are afforded flexibility. For instance, I was able to take my electives in the Faculty of Native Studies (FNS), which had a profound impact on me. And from within MACT, you’re exposed to schools of thought from the humanities and social sciences which can assist in making sense of complex, overlapping social phenomena [sociality]. These perspectives are then tied directly to contemporary situations and contexts, which makes the learning feel fresh, as though it were on the pulse of the world. New life can be – and often is – breathed into old theory. Life goes in cycles, it’s all relevant, I swear!  

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that MACT has internship opportunities as well, as the program helped set up my position with Connect Humanity. My work with that organization has given me the chance to use knowledge and theory I’ve gained through MACT and FNS and apply them in real-world settings. That’s what it's all about, isn’t it? MACT has been the constant in all this, so, to them I’m forever grateful. Hiy hiy.

Four attendees pose for the camera

Picture of Winnipeg skyline