Celebrating National Aboriginal Day: How SWIFT is working with First Nations to build #broadbandforeveryone

The Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus established SWIFT with the clear goal of delivering ultra-high-speed services, ranging from 1Gbps to up to 1000 Gbps (and faster), with fibre optic internet access to communities across southwestern Ontario. As the project developed, additional partners including the Town of Caledon, City of Orillia, Niagara Region and the Region of Waterloo have joined as full members.

SWIFT will build a fibre-optic network through a self-sustaining, self-funding business model. The project will initially focus on investing in critical new fibre-optic backbone infrastructure and extend to last-mile local access over the long term. To support the successful implementation of the network plan, SWIFT will engage First Nations, the Métis Nation of Ontario, school boards, health care institutions, and key private sector organizations to secure sufficient sites for building the network, leverage broad investments and funding opportunities – and to ensure continued positive impact for the people the project is intended to serve.

SWIFT’s collaborative partnership model will require coordinated support and cooperation from key stakeholders and partners in both the public and private sectors, including First Nations governments, in their position as rights and title holders, First Nations communities, First Nations businesses and organizations, the Métis Nation of Ontario and Métis businesses and organizations. Implementing the project successfully will require not only effective project management, but sustained and effective communications and stakeholder relations support, and ongoing organizational learning as community needs are shared. Critically, SWIFT will engage the fourteen First Nations in our region and the Métis Nation of Ontario as important partners in building broadband for everyone and to support digital inclusion, economic development, and knowledge transfer for all Ontarians and First Peoples in our region.

SWIFT recognizes that many First Nations are actively involved in developing broadband projects through their own local initiatives, by working with partners like K-Net, or by working with collaborative research and development projects like the First Mile project. Broadband advocacy by the Chiefs in Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations parallels the advocacy work undertaken by SWIFT, with the AFN passing a resolution in 2011 supporting a First Nations e-Community Strategy and First Mile issuing a 2010 report “Putting the last mile first: Re-framing Broadband Development in First Nations and Inuit Communities.” SWIFT is actively seeking to develop strong relationships with First Nations in Ontario in order to support building a broadband network for everyone that increases competition and leads to better services at lower prices, with public oversight that ensures open access and transparency by and for service providers, SWIFT, and member organizations.

Through SWIFT’s pre-funding community engagement process, SWIFT pursued opportunities to actively engage First Nations and create opportunities for partnership with key First Nations organizations and leaders, including appointing First Nations members to the SWIFT Advisory Committee and Board of Directors. SWIFT is committed to maintaining positions for First Nations appointments to the Board of Directors and Advisory Committee as the project continues to grow and develop.

Pre-funding announcement, letters of support were received from the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Pont, and Walpole Island First Nation and we were thrilled and grateful to have received these letters. We are grateful to have met and learned from several First Nations leaders and are excited to continue the conversation with all fourteen First Nations in our region. We are grateful for the learnings shared in meetings with leaders from the Southern First Nations Secretariat, K-Net, First Mile, the Chiefs of Ontario, and others. We understand that these relationships do not include the full range of First Nations, First Nations organizations or businesses, or Métis organizations or businesses within SWIFT’s target geography. SWIFT staff have been pursuing opportunities to continue developing relationships with First Nations and Indigenous organizations across the region, and more broadly across the country, in order to develop appropriate strategies for supporting collaboration between local First Nations connectivity projects and SWIFT – so we can truly build #broadbandforeveryone.

Celebrating, recognizing, and supporting Indigenous communities and culture is one of many steps on our journey of reconciliation, healing and connecting as a country as we reflect on our past and look toward our future. We are constantly learning, growing, and working to build and maintain meaningful relationships and we thank everyone who continues to help us move forward together. Our efforts to recognize and celebrate Indigenous leadership and connectivity projects today as part of National Aboriginal Day reflects our commitment at SWIFT to work with Indigenous partners to help support a better future for everyone in the region.

SWIFT also encourages readers to follow the hashtag #NADCanada and explore opportunities to recognize and celebrate the important contributions that Indigenous peoples to our country’s social, economic, and cultural landscape.