Brock University

Settler colonialism and digital technologies

Settler colonialism in Canada is maintained by an economy and social structure based on resource extraction from lands and waters on remote and rural territories. The Canadian state and its industry partners use digital technologies extensively to protect capitalism. These many and varied digital technology processes include broadcasting digital media content that reinforces colonial relations and capitalist modes of production and consumption, using broadband networks to carry financial information and deliver government programs, surveilling social media to identify actors and social movements challenging the system, and many more.All rural and remote communities - and particularly Indigenous communities - face both considerable opportunities and challenges related to digital technologies. The land-based lifestyle and culture of remote and rural Indigenous communities has brought them into conflict with the Canadian state and its industry partners. Resources extracted from their territories have been subsidizing the Canadian economy for years. Rural and remote communities are using digital technologies for distance education, telehealth, social networking to maintain community connection, organize resistance, and many more purposes. However challenges include a digital divide, government policies and actions to maintain settler colonialism, and lack of recognition of remote, rural and Indigenous technological innovation.

Session Organizer: Susan O'Donnell, University of New Brunswick,


Maintaining colonial relations with digital technologies

Susan O'Donnell, University of New Brunswick,

Cherokee Nation scholar Jeff Corntassel uses the term "shape-shifting colonialism" to describe how settler colonial governments have over time used the tools available to them as instruments of domination over Indigenous peoples (Corntassel, 2012; Corntassel & Alfred, 2008).

My presentation focuses on six ways that colonial governments and their corporate partners are expanding their use of digital technologies to exert control over remote and rural Indigenous (First Nation) communities: 1) controlling the public discourse around Indigenous resistance (Dafnos, 2013; Roth, 1992); 2) making onerous requirements for digital reporting by community groups, including Indigenous organizations, as a condition of receiving public funds (Gibson, O'Donnell & Rideout, 2007); 3) conducting digital surveillance - both covert and overt; 4) providing funding to urban service institutions to use digital networks to deliver services remotely while withholding funding to remote Indigenous communities to develop their own capacity to deliver services; 5) providing public funds directly to telecommunications corporations to take care of communities instead of providing funds to Indigenous communities to develop their own digital capacity; and 6) providing a cadre of young and inexperienced government program managers with digital tools and requirements for collecting quantifiable data that excludes the reality of First Nations’ experience. The goal is to maintain contemporary colonial relations, in particular to keep traditional Indigenous territories open for capitalist exploitation. My analysis also draws on Robert McChesney's (2013) work on digital technologies and capitalism.


Digital Technologies and Indigenous Pedagogy

Ashley Julian, University of New Brunswick,

Innovative social networking strategies are transforming the context for future generations in the 21st century. Indigenous peoples and communities are using digital technologies to bond and bridge Indigenous pedagogy across Canada to protect their languages and culture, and developing programs for cultural preservation. Indigenous philosophy is experiencing an urgency to gather information from Indigenous elders, as elders are the holders of the Indigenous pedagogy and oral history.

We are living in the 21st century and Indigenous students across Canada live in ‘shame’ for not knowing their language and culture. This embeds a fear in students public speaking, pronunciation, and response in their mother tongue. Indigenous critics of settler colonialism (Alfred, 2008) and critical education theorists (Kincheloe, 2008) have identified that mainstream education is a means of maintaining the status quo (pillars of civilization). Traditional Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous languages are absent in current private/public elementary and secondary literature and curriculum. Digital technologies usage is now growing and Indigenous peoples are reconstructing cultural identity through online courses and distance education. As a result digital technologies and social networking are being used as a form of Indigenous resilience against ethnocentrism and colonialism. Indigenous pedagogy is learned within families, from birth, children are taught the cultural values to sustain, retain, and comprehend how our natural laws are mobilizing. My Presentation will discuss how digital technology can support Indigenous pedagogy and cultural resilience in the face of settler colonialism.


Digital Data Management in Kahnawà:ke

Rob McMahon, University of New Brunswick, , Tim LaHache, Kahnawake Education Center, , Tim Whiteduck, First Nations Education Council,

Indigenous communities are addressing settler colonialism through a variety of community-based projects (Simpson, 2011). Among these initiatives are those leveraging digital technologies. In the emergent network society, digital infrastructures and information and communication technologies are powerful tools that can support self-government activities (Castells, 2009; McChesney, 2013).

This presentation documents the development of digital data management in the Mohawk community of Kahnawà:ke. Data is the digital information generated by a community. It encompasses areas like research, education, finance, health, membership, housing, lands and resources. Data and data management tools, competencies, and capacities help with planning and decision-making, improve accountability, and measure success. Jurisdiction over data rests with the community and each First Nation has the right to determine how that jurisdiction is interpreted and enforced. First Nations have always recognized and respected protocols pertaining to the collection, use, and sharing of community information. They have the authority to decide which community data will be shared with external entities such as governments and researchers.

Kahnawà:ke is a leader in First Nations digital data management. The CANO system (developed and managed by the First Nations Education Council of Quebec) provides opportunities for First Nations like Kahnawà:ke to manage their data for various purposes, such as when reporting to external governments. This is an important consideration in the context of the proposed First Nations Education Act. In this context, our study outlines how Kahnawà:ke supports community data management through an enabling environment that includes administration (policies, analysis, supervision), technical architectures (infrastructure, connectivity), data management systems, and personnel.

The presentation begins with a general introduction to the community. It then outlines how Kahnawà:ke organizes the storage, management, transfer, and use of community data. Interviews, documentary research, and site visits explore indigenous principles of data management. The presentation concludes by considering the implications of data management for Kahnawà:ke’s self-government initiatives.


E-Community - First Nations owning and controlling their digital networks and online services

Brian Beaton, University of New Brunswick,

Marie Battiste understands the challenges First Nations experience when she describes the multiple “layers of oppression” imposed on the Mi’Kmaq people by successive colonial governments, their foreign policies, and underfunded services (Battiste, 2013, p15). Remote First Nations across Canada face similar and even more extreme challenges and oppression related to the provision of quality support programs, services and economic opportunities for local citizens.

My presentation examines how six remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario are innovating with the use of broadband networks and information and communication technologies (ICT) to deliver a full range of programs, services and provide socio-economic opportunities for their citizens. Locally owned and managed enterprises and services make it possible for new employment and learning opportunities that provide citizens with choices for accessing services, creating healthy standards of living, and balancing traditional and contemporary lifestyles. Using a critical lens integrating colonial, race and Marxist theories ensures the material represents a First Nation perspective (Alfred, 2008; Harvey, 2003; Kincheloe, 2008).

I engaged in participatory research with a tribal council representing residents of six remote First Nations. We developed and conducted an online survey in early 2014 to explore two questions: a) what online development opportunities are available to them and what are their experiences with these opportunities? b) What support systems and digital networks do these remote community residents identify as required to expand their ability to access and sustain their communities? The critical analysis includes a review of experiences in these First Nations before ICT became available. Through a settler colonialism lens I present the importance of First Nation control of their education systems and how ICT supports the development and provision of services and opportunities in these remote communities.


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