British Columbia

Q&A: Why B.C.'s tech sector must embrace reconciliation

The First Nations Technology Council is travelling the province to identify opportunities and barriers in the tech industry

First Nations Technology Council travelling province to identify opportunities and barriers in tech industry

Alexander Dirksen of the First Nations Technology Council. (First Nations Technology Council)

Access to the internet is both a right and a key step toward economic reconciliation.

That's the argument being put forward by Alexander Dirksen, the manager of strategy and engagement for the First Nations Technology Council, a B.C.-based organization focused on connecting Indigenous people and communities to the internet and other new technologies.

The council is currently touring the province to hear how Indigenous people are using the internet in their communities, and to identify barriers preventing access to technology and technology-based jobs.

CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk attended a session in Prince Rupert and spoke with Dirksen about the project.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why is it important for the tech sector to embrace Indigenous people?

The technology sector is the fastest growing sector in B.C., and there's a tremendous amount of potential around employment and sustainable employment.

Indigenous people, however, represent less than four per cent of the IT and technology sector in the province. And so, there's a number of perspectives and knowledge and ideas that aren't being captured. (Note: according to StatsCan, 5.9 per cent of British Columbias identify as Indigenous). 

There are a number of barriers that are still in place, everything from connectivity and access to technology to limited skills development opportunities.

In January 2018, the provincial and federal governments announced fibre-optic cable lines will bring high-speed internet access to coastal communities in B.C.

There's also work that has to be done on the sector side to make sure that workplaces are equitable and inclusive and respectful of Indigenous voices, as well.

When we speak about reconciliation, specifically economic reconciliation, there's a lot that the tech sector itself can be doing to create opportunities for Indigenous people to thrive.

How difficult is it to bridge the gap between the young and the old?

I think there's a natural bias toward focusing on younger populations, but there's tremendous opportunities for technology to be used amongst elders.

We've heard a lot of stories around how technology is being used for connecting with family members ... and how technology can actually create an opportunity for intergenerational learning.

Youth can be providing opportunities for elders to be learning about technology, and, at the same time, elders can be sharing teachings and practices to the youth, so that's it actually a convening force, so we're having elders and youth come together ... and deepen those relationships.

There's a lot of internet dead spots across northern and rural B.C. How much is accessibility a factor?

The CRTC ruled nationally that broadband internet access is a basic necessity for all Canadians, yet, despite that, we're still not seeing equitable access.

I think for a lot of individuals, particularly those in large, urban centres where high-speed access is readily available ... there's an assumption that everybody in Canada has that same access. 

Again, when we're talking about conversations around reconciliation and looking to the future and seeing reconciliation, not just as a process of looking backwards but looking to the future, full and equitable access to these emerging digital technologies is a fundamental human right in Canada, and we need to be seeing a bigger push in those areas.