Kahnawake gets $5M to bring high-speed internet to Mohawk community

Federal and provincial governments each chipping in another $47M, to accelerate and expand high speed internet projects in Indigenous communities and remote parts of Quebec.

Quebec, Canada invest $94M more to bring high-speed internet to an additional 18,000 Quebec homes

Kahnawake is one of many communities that will see an upgrade in their internet due to a $94-million investment by the provincial and federal governments. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Canada and Quebec have bolstered a plan to bring high-speed internet to the entire province, with a joint investment of $94 million that will support local businesses, co-operatives and non-profit organizations.

Dubbed Le volet Éclair II, (Lightning Phase 2) the second phase of Quebec's internet initiative aims to bring high speed internet to another 18,000 households in remote areas and Indigenous communities by September, 2022.

Close to 40,000 homes still waiting on new networks will also see more money and a faster rollout for local infrastructure.

In Kahnawake, First Nations Wireless — soon to be known as First Nations Fibre — will receive a total of $5 million. Director of operations Kameron Lahache says his company will offer fibre optic internet access to every household and business in Kahnawake by next year.

"A new digital age is on the horizon for our community," said Lahache, "and we are confident that with the completion of this project, our community, our culture and our identity will be strengthened..."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Marc Miller and First Nations Fibre director of operations Kameron Lahache at the announcement of funding for high-speed internet in Kahnawake, Que. (Submitted by Kameron Lahache)

Recently elected Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer says it's welcome news for a community that struggled to stay connected during the pandemic.

"Well, it was definitely challenging...through the pandemic, for us even as the local government," said Sky-Deer. "Getting cut off, losing people in meetings…. It will definitely help the level of connectivity for our community."

Sky-Deer says she's already brainstorming how to use the new fibre optic network in Kahnawake as a tool for cultural celebration and preservation.

Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer hopes high-speed internet will make everyday life easier and contribute to cultural programming in the community. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

"We can now use technology as a means to promote our culture, our identity, our language and the community," she said, "with different programming and the availability for us to connect in that way."

"Technology is the way of the future," Sky-Deer said, "and there's endless potential and possibilities for us to utilize it to our benefit."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Marc Miller said bringing reliable, faster internet to First Nations is part of an effort to "bridge the infrastructure gap" and move toward reconciliation.

"Across Canada we know that when we say remote, it often is a proxy for Indigenous communities, and that access isn't there…." he said.  "Only 31.3 percent of First Nations have access to internet that goes up to the standard…"

"Our work contributes to building vibrant Indigenous communities across this land," he said.

Many more communities still waiting

Quebec MNA Gilles Bélanger, who's in charge of the Quebec high-speed internet file, says he hopes high-speed internet will bring a similar boost to small towns and remote regions, increasing productivity and making it easier for people to launch new businesses.

The province says it will make another announcement about high-speed internet access later this year, as there are still about 18,000 Quebec homes  — mostly in areas that are sparsely populated and difficult to access — that aren't part of its plan.

Grand Chief Sky-Deer agrees that the federal and provincial governments working hand in hand with Indigenous communities on projects like this one is a step forward.

"Everybody keeps hearing of this reconciliation with Indigenous peoples across the country and Turtle Island," she said.

"So if this is one example that we can show where there's a positive outcome through our collaboration then I'd like to see more of it in the future."

With files from Valeria Cori-Mannochio