Thunder Bay

Broadband high-speed internet coming to five northern Ontario First Nation communities

High-speed Internet is coming to five fly-in First Nations communities in Ontario's far north.

High-speed internet has been a long time coming, say First Nation leaders in remote northern Ontario

Participants at Friday's event in Thunder Bay, Ont, announcing the intent to bring high-speed internet to five fly-in First Nations communities. (Jacqueline McKay)

High-speed Internet is coming to five fly-in First Nations communities in Ontario's far north.

The federal government and the province have partnered with Matawa First Nations, a tribal council that represents nine Ojibway and Cree First Nations, as part of the Connect to Innovate program, that looks to connect all Canadians to the digital economy.

"This is really about improving a quality of life and again promoting equality of opportunity," said Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and economic development, at an announcement in Thunder Bay on Friday. 

The federal government will provide up to $37.1 million, from the Connect to Innovate program, for the project while the provincial government will invest up to $30 million. Just over $2 million will be provided by the First Nations Infrastructure Fund through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

The money will go towards building a 880 kilometer broadband fiber-optic cable network connecting Nibinamik, Neskantaga, Eabametoong, Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations.

"It's great news and one we have been waiting for, for many years," said Elizabeth Atlookan, chief of Eabametoong.

Prior to becoming chief, Atlookan was a health director in her community during a state of emergency because of the misuse of prescription drugs. During this time she said they could have used telepsychiatry and telemedicine, if they had been equipped with high-speed internet.

"I believe with this we will be able to move to more innovative ways of addressing our trauma related issues," said Atlookan.

Chiefs Bruce Achneepineskum of Marten Falls and Chief Wayne Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation said that the connection has been a long time coming. The five communities were left out of a previous broadband expansion plan and have been using a satellite network.

Bains said that the government won't stop here when it comes to connecting First Nation communities.

"We will continue to make these announcements that will benefit rural and remote communities, particularly our Indigenous communities," said Bains.

The program to connect these communities will roll out in 2018.

Jackie McKay