RICTA Tours Deer Lake First Nation

Story by Rick Garrick. March 10 - From the coed outhouse at the airport to the spanking brand-new, broadband-connected community schools, the fly-in remote community of Deer Lake First Nation is a community of stark contrasts.“Amazing, invigorating, and stimulating,” were among the comments expressed about Deer Lake’s use of ICT as a group of 10 RICTA (Research on ICT with Aboriginal Communities) members, visiting from across Canada and the United States, toured the Oji-Cree community on the ... (read more)
...afternoon of March 10."Probably half the community” is currently using ICT (information and communication technologies) on a regular basis, estimated tour-guide Darrell Ostamas. “The kids use it in the school,” he said, “and the community has it in their homes.”Many of the RICTA members were also surprised to learn that over 200 computers are set up throughout the community of about 1,000 people.Ostamas shared that information during RICTA’s tour of the current E-Centre, which included videoconference sessions with KiHS (Keewaytinook Okimakanak Internet High School) teachers and students in Weagamow and KiHS principal Darrin Potter at K-Net’s hub in Balmertown.“The school itself has over 100 computers,” Ostamas said, noting the community’s new school just opened in January. “Some people use ICT to do their work, (others) use it as they like.”The three-hour visit to Deer Lake, which preluded RICTA’s scheduled 2005 meeting in Balmertown on March 11 and also included a tour of the Telehealth centre and a bus tour past the new school and an almost finished new E-Centre, was attended by Susan O'Donnell, National Research Council and University of New Brunswick; Brian Walmark, Keewaytinook Okimakanak Research Institute; Jill Finley, Understanding the Strengths of Indigenous Communities (USIC), York University; Heather E. Hudson, Telecommunications Management and Policy Program, School of Business and Management, University of San Francisco; Rob Mastin, Office of Learning Technologies, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada; Sylvia S. Barton, Nursing Program, University of Northern British Columbia; Nadia Caidi, Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto; Jonathan Corbett, Department of Geography, University of Victoria; Teresa Ritter, Joint Graduate Programme in Communication & Culture, York & Ryerson Universities; and Adam Fiser, Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto.Rob Mastin believes that visiting the communities he works with will enable him “to be better able to understand the situation the people themselves face.”“It’s pretty evident that they don’t have many of the resources that we in the south have,” he said. “But they have put a priority on learning. There is evidence that a lot of people of all ages are learning and proud to show they can use modern technology to learn more.”Mastin was happy to see the brand-new “culturally designed” school and the use of ICT in the Telehealth centre, and he plans to share his newly gained knowledge with his colleagues in Ottawa and to enable a session with people involved in policy decisions within his department as well as in Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and Heritage Canada.“It shows that once a community and the people in that community realize the benefits of technology, they will seek out ways to use it,” he said. “Just like they pushed forward with Telehealth.”During RICTA’s visit to the Telehealth centre, Anita Meekis, Deer Lake’s Telehealth coordinator, demonstrated the patient exam camera while examining one of the RICTA member’s hockey scars and tour-guide Stewart Meekis’ ear as Telehealth regional coordinator Donna Williams, K-Net manager Brian Beaton, and a group of Prince Albert Grand Council representatives from Saskatchewan looked on through videoconference from K-Net’s hub in Balmertown.Williams explained that Telehealth fulfills a role in the communities because some patients face a one-year waiting list to access appointments in Thunder Bay while the Telehealth waiting list is much shorter.She also noted that whenever a patient misses an appointment at one of the outside medical centres, even for a death in the family, they may face restrictions for future appointments, such as paying their own way for treatment, which takes at least three days, one day for travel to the medical centre, one day for the appointment, and another day to return home.During RICTA’s visit to the E-Centre, Sherry Crane, a KiHS student in Weagamow, presented Harnessing ICT in Weagamow, a slide show over videoconference.“In the fall of 2002, Weagamow was introduced to broadband Internet services,” Crane said, adding that Weagamow is now one of 13 communities across northwestern Ontario that can access up to 23 grade 9 and 10 courses from KiHS. “The people of Weagamow are seeing the benefits of ICT in the community everyday.”Darrin Potter explained that although the courses meet Ontario Ministry of Education guidelines, they “look a lot different from the Ministry profile” and are not just computer based.“We try to build into our lessons an opportunity for the students to go to other work areas,” he said, adding that the students have “quite a bit of interaction” with their teachers, who are located in each of the 13 communities.He also explained that for many years, high school was a rite of passage for youth in the communities as they left home at 13, 14 or 15-years-of-age to attend high school in much bigger communities, such as Sioux Lookout or Thunder Bay.“There are benefits to staying in the community for a couple of more years,” he said, noting that some KiHS students are doing co-op placements in the community. “One is now working at the nursing station part-time.”Potter also added that student feedback will be one of the steps in the evaluation of the KiHS five-year pilot project, which is nearing its midpoint.“It’s fascinating what you’re doing,” Jonathan Corbett said. “It’s brilliant.”Theresa Ritter explained that she has read about Telehealth and was excited to actually see the technology in action.“What I saw was amazing,” she said. “You get an inkling of how technological change allows people to flourish in the communities.”As far as technology is concerned, Ritter doesn’t see much difference between what she sees in Deer Lake and Toronto.“You can have everything you want and not have to sacrifice the essentials,” she said, noting that it is up to RICTA to collaborate and develop some intuitive research projects that benefit the communities.“This is a great opportunity. Hopefully we’ll be setting an example; rather than using Aboriginal communities as an object of study, (we’ll be) collaborating with the communities.”“People have to visit with each other face to face.”Geordi Kakepetum, executive director of Keewaytinook Okimakanak, explained that there has to be some input from the community, that research cannot just be directed from Toronto or Ottawa.“There have been a lot of things developed in the south,” he said. “There has never been a time where we had a sense of ownership.”“We want to have a sense of ownership.”RICTA's objectives for the March 11 meeting are to identify the perspectives and points of view expressed by Aboriginal communities and nations with respect to the strengths, opportunities, restraints and barriers related to using ICT for their development; to develop the RICTA network infrastructure to support interactive engagement within the network, with Aboriginal communities, and with wider communities; and to develop ideas for research and the creation of new knowledge that relates to ICT in Aboriginal communities.