Situated just north ofWilliams Lake, Xatśūll First Nation is the northernmost tribe of the Secwepemc Nation. Community members reside immediately adjacent to the Xatśūll heritage village site perched on the banks of the F
raser River at Soda Creek 1, and also at nearby Deep Creek 2 where the Nation’s administration, education and health buildings are located.
As of November 2019, both of these Xatśūll communities were connected to high speed internet as part of Pathways to Technology’s broader initiative to bring high-speed fibre optic internet to thirteen communities in nine Cariboo Chilcotin First Nations throughout 2019 and 2020. Pathways engaged TELUS Communications to complete the fibre build and also received complementary funding for the project from Interior Health.
On November 14, 2019, representatives from Pathways and TELUS had the opportunity to join Xatśūll for their November Community Meeting. Chief Sheri Sellars spoke to the gathering with great sincerity and enthusiasm about the long-awaited arrival of fibre optic internet.
Prior to becoming Chief, Sellars acted as Xatśūll’s Communications Coordinator. In that role, she spearheaded the initiative to bring high-speed internet to both Xatśūll communities and worked with Pathways to Technology’s Jamie Sterritt to develop a viable plan to accomplish that objective. For Chief Sellars, high-speed is critical to Xatśūll’s long term success.
Ruth Williams, Pathways to Technology Project Manager addressed the gathering as well. She shared the news that an iPad would be raffled off to a community member that evening and, on top of that, Pathways to Technology would donate two computers to the community, both of which will be made available for use by community members.
Following these and other speeches, we spent time with community members and leaders, and caught their enthusiasm about the connectivity project. Brent Dunlop, Xatśūll’s Finance Assistant, has a long history of working with First Nations on technology issues in the Cariboo Chilcotin region. In addition to his work as Xatśūll’s Finance Assistant, he acts as a consultant helping organizations, including many local First Nations, configure accounting software and navigate the pitfalls of setting up IT infrastructure. The maze of options available and lack of good connectivity have often resulted in piecemeal systems. Often, individual components are incompatible and the system doesn’t function properly as a whole.
Dunlop explained that this has decidedly been the case with Xatśūll’s IT configuration, particularly when it comes to email. Staff email accounts are hosted by a variety of different providers so that email addresses are inconsistent, and are not associated with a single Xatśūll domain name. This can make contact information difficult to track down and it increases the odds of emails being misdirected. The current setup is also extremely costly.
Similarly, there is no central electronic file storage system and no reliable means of transferring large files, securely or otherwise, between departments. By way of example, the Natural Resources department is not able to send or receive GIS map files created or maintained by the Tribal Council or other organizations. All of these issues have historically had a negative impact on the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the Nation’s administration.
Now that high-speed internet has arrived, there is a solution to these issues. All Xatśūll staff will be migrating to Microsoft’s Office 365 program, opening a portal to vastly improved systems and processes. Among other things, Office 365 will enable consistent, single domain email addresses, user friendly shared calendars for planning meetings, and access to individual and shared drives hosted in the cloud, all for a cost that is less than what Xatśūll previously paid for a patchwork of far inferior services. None of these features would have been available or useful to Xatśūll without high-speed internet access. The many frustrations surrounding communication and file management are about to disappear, and staff will be able to better focus on real and substantive issues.
This sentiment was echoed by Rae-Lyn Betts, Health Manager at the Soda Creek Health Station. Betts explained that, without high-speed internet, nurse practitioners are frequently stalled in delivering patient care due to an inability to access patients’ electronic medical records. The records are held in Interior Health’s online database and, when the internet is slow or out of service, records are inaccessible and the system grinds to a halt. Patients are left waiting and nurse practitioners are left frustrated. On the administration side of things, slow, limited bandwidth thwarts efforts to communicate and share files with health funders and partners. It also causes delays in uploading notices, health or otherwise, to Xatśūll’s website and social media platforms.
Xatśūll’s Communications Coordinator, David Sannes, looks forward to putting technology to use in his own role, but also within the community in terms of how people communicate with one another. Sannes pointed out that younger generations tend to communicate via websites and apps more than older ones, and that this difference can lead to a divide between generations. High-speed internet and better access to social media sites and apps will enable older generations to stay more connected to younger ones. In that same vein, access to online technology is critically important to youth given the central role that technology plays in today’s economies, both locally and globally.
Xatśūll is ready and more than willing to start reaping the many benefits that high-speed internet will bring to its communities. Members are just beginning to explore the potential of connectivity and Pathways looks forward to an ongoing dialogue about how lives are changing and growing in the wake of high speed.