Breaking trails: Stories from the First Mile


Across Canada, remote and rural Indigenous organizations have been building and delivering broadband services to rural and remote communities. A new book celebrates the achievements of some of these communities.

Stories from the First Mile: Digital Technologies in Remote and Rural Indigenous Communities, highlights Indigenous innovation and struggles against systemic and circumstantial obstacles, like political silos, lack of infrastructures and challenging environments.

The authors explain that “First Mile means recognizing that remote and rural communities are also centres of digital innovation. Through ownership and control, the communities can manage the broadband effectively to meet community needs now and into the future.” The stories in the book show how Indigenous communities have become the producers and managers of broadband networks—these efforts have generated economic and employment opportunities.

The Keewaytinook Okimakanak First Nations council in northwestern Ontario and the University of New Brunswick’s (UNB) Department of Sociology in Fredericton partnered to study how broadband infrastructure supports the resilience and resurgence of remote and rural Indigenous communities. In 2005, they expanded to include additional Indigenous organizations and university partners, and formed the First Nations Innovation (FNI) project. FNI would focus on all digital networks and applications used by remote and rural Indigenous communities.

The team found that these communities are using broadband networks and information and communications technologies (ICTs) in innovative ways to access services online—to support e-health, e-learning, e-business, e-administration and many other applications and services.

The FNI team recognized the value of research to support and develop understanding, evidence-based policy and transformative change. But in 2013, during a visit to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), realized they needed to better represent the views and realities of Indigenous communities.

The team launched the First Mile Connectivity Consortium (FMCC) to provide expert advice and to document Indigenous communities’ and organizations’ experiences related to broadband infrastructure and digital technologies.

SSHRC has funded FNI research since 2005, and this book marks the formal end of the project. Over 13 years the project team has worked with dozens of Indigenous communities and trained many graduate students. The FMCC continues to exist as a not-for-profit association, and members include First Nation Internet service providers that also represent residents in remote and rural First Nation communities.

Stories from the First Mile is open access and available for download on the First Mile website. The research team hopes it will inform similar communities of practice and encourage others to continue this important effort.

FNI partners:

  • Keewaytinook Okimakanak, the Northern Chiefs Council, a tribal council serving First Nations in northwestern Ontario;
  • Atlantic Canada’s First Nation Help Desk, part of the Mik’maq Kina’matnewey education organization in Nova Scotia, serving all First Nations in Atlantic Canada;
  • First Nations Education Council, a regional support organization for communities in Quebec.
  • First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group, a regional support organization for communities in Alberta; and
  • the University of New Brunswick, as the lead partner university. Partner universities were Université Laval and the University of Alberta.