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First Nations need our help

The headline for this issue's cover story is Mensa Networks, a fitting description because in order to handle the many infrastructure advances in our schools and universities, the proper cabling backbone and state-of-the-art network equipment...


September 1, 2010  


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The headline for this issue’s cover story is Mensa Networks, a fitting description because in order to handle the many infrastructure advances in our schools and universities, the proper cabling backbone and state-of-the-art network equipment needs to be in place.

Students deserve it, no matter where they live, but tragically, there are those who miss out such as the young aboriginal children in the remote regions of Northern Ontario.

While their counterparts in the Okanagan Valley enjoy a range of live IPTV type services including video on demand and sophisticated wireless systems capable of handling up to 30 laptops per class, there are no such perks for children of the 28 fly-in First Nations camps located in the far reaches of the province.

Aisha Umar, Sales Centre Vice President in Canada for AT&T Inc., recently visited the camps and in an interview with CNS (see p. 14) described it as a life-changing experience: “There are 10 children of varying ages in a trailer with a teacher who is trying to do all things for all people. That said, I have never come across children who have such a desire to learn. The problem is that when they get to high school age they are forced to be uprooted and sent to a larger centre — Thunder Bay, for example, away from their family and friends. In this day and age, I found that very disturbing.”

Umar travelled to the camps as a technology advisor for Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley, who has continued on the same path as his predecessor, James Bartleman, a member of the Mnjikaning First Nation.

Bartleman introduced the Aboriginal Literacy program during his term and Onley announced in his installation speech three years ago he intended to “twin-track” it with the Aboriginal Youth Computer Literacy Initiative. The goal: A computer on every school desk of every First Nations Community.

“It is my hope that five years from now every young aboriginal boy and girl graduating from high school will have new options,” the former technology journalist said at the time. “Being Computer Literate, they will be able to choose whether to move out into the world, or to stay and contribute to their communities and still remain connected to the greater Ontario community, plugged in as it were to the rest of the province.”

Part of Umar’s mandate is to bring as many technology companies together for a cause that is certainly not an Ontario-only problem. In June, the Canadian Council of Provincial Child and Youth Advocates issued a release saying that a nation-wide plan is urgently needed to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children and youth.

On a national level, there have been some breakthroughs such as The TechFeature from the high-tech charity CompuCorps.org, a program that provides Aboriginal youth with computers and technology for the support of homework, volunteer mentoring, skills development and employment opportunities.

What is encouraging about the Onley initiative is that it is regional in scope.

CNS intends to track Umar’s attempts to airlift as much technology into the camps with updates in the print edition as well as on the Web site. “Education is not a privilege, it is a right in my books,” she says. “I think people and technology companies need to step up and say, this is our responsibility.”

Networking firms, structured cabling manufacturers, installers and consultants are all welcome to sign up for the cause. If interested, e-mail me at pbarker@cnsmagazine.com and I will be sure to forward your contact information along to the appropriate sources.