Smart Progress

Seven Years of Work and Still So Much to Do -
A Short Story About the Development and Directions of K-Net
July 2001

An Overview

The Kuh-ke-nah Network of SMART First Nations is a practical expression of Indigenous community development. Six First Nations - connected by water in the summer and ice in the winter - have built an electronic road to Canada and the world. We are using this resource to stimulate and manage change in our communities.

The broadband network is both a strategy and an outcome. SMART services are being deployed to overcome barriers of distance and isolation, to improve community well-being, enhance learning opportunities, and support skills and knowledge acquisition. The Kuh-ke-nah Network is a touchstone for Keewaytinook Okimakanak First Nations and a promising means for building sustainable communities in the 21st Century.

Kuh-ke-nah is for and by everyone. It is a shared resource with deep roots in Deer Lake, Fort Severn, Keewaywin, McDowell Lake, North Spirit Lake and Poplar Hill. Since its inception as 'K-Net' almost seven years ago, the Kuh-ke-nah Network has grown from a regional bulletin board service to a centre of expertise in Indigenous informatics.

The K-Net BBS began in the fall of 1994 as a "Stay-in-school" project to connect the students from Keewaytinook Okimakanak First Nations by computer mediated communication (CMC). The BBS was designed to support students in networking with each other; to nurture peer support; to explore the world of telecommunication; and to allow parents to keep in touch with their children while they attended school away from home.

In 1995, other First Nation groups and parents saw how a shared communication system could help their communities and children and offered their support to make K-Net accessible across the region. Kuh-ke-nah grew in scope and scale during the next two years. By the Fall of 1997, the K-Net BBS was supporting secondary and post-secondary learners, hosting more than one hundred unique on-line meeting spaces and delivering affordable access to on-line services throughout the Sioux Lookout District.

That same year, K-Net launched the first of four community informatics skills development programs. These were aimed at building ICT skills and capacities in a changing telematics environment. K-Net's selection as the First Nations SchoolNet Help Desk for Northern Ontario supported broader, demand based learning needs. In 1997 K-Net migrated to a client-server platform and introduced web-based e-mail and browsing through a 1-800 service.

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Since 1997, Kuh-ke-nah has worked within two domains - working with public and private sector partners to ensure affordable community access to digital infrastructure and designing and delivering relevant and high quality e-services. The former project was substantially completed in Northwestern Ontario with the completion of the North of Red Lake (2000) and the North of Pickle Lake (2001) digital radio infrastructure projects. The latter initiative has seen the deployment of regional training server, health information systems, secondary and post-secondary distributed learning initiatives, and telehealth applications.

At the same time, staff showed a tireless commitment to be at the cutting edge of ICT policy and system development. Their input has influenced the focus and relevance of major regional and national ICT initiatives. Some of this work is identified below:

  • FedNor Aboriginal Working Group, Telecommunications Committee, an advisory body that assessed telecommunications needs and gaps in northern Ontario First Nations.
  • Northwestern Telecom Advisory Committee - a regional body that guides the development of regional networking across northwestern Ontario.
  • Northwestern Ontario Telehealth Planning Group - a regional body established to examine the demand and need for telehealth services for communities in Northwestern Ontario.
  • National Broadband Task Force (Infrastructure Working Group) - a national advisory structure to Industry Canada that is tasked with determining how high speed connections and services will be delivered across Canada.
  • National First Nations Telehealth Working Group - a national advisory body to Health Canada that is identifying workable approaches and models for telehealth delivery in First Nations and Inuit communities.
  • National Telehealth Interoperability Working Group - a national adhoc body that is examining the clinical, operational and technical issues for creating an interoperable system of telehealth in Canada.
  • SMART Communities - a consortium of twelve regional communities that have been designated by Industry Canada as national SMART community demonstration projects.
  • Community Access Program Adjudication Committee - a regional review committee that reviews and approves applications to Industry Canada's Community Access Program.

During the past five years, K-Net has worked with its partners to produce impressive results. In partnership with the Community Access Program, FedNor, HRDC, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, Bell Canada and NAN First Nations, Kuh-ke-nah has built new capacity for development in remote communities. Their staff have engaged far flung communities in telecommunications development and have effectively introduced formative and positive changes in the regional ICT environment. Some of the milestones achieved in this process are outlined below:

1994 Keewaytinook Okimakanak's Education Department launches a BBS;
1995 The K-Net BBS is expanded to all First Nations in the Sioux Lookout District
1996 Keewaytinook Okimakanak becomes Industry Canada's First Nation Schoolnet Helpdesk serving Northern Ontario; CAP sites are established in ten district First Nations
1997 K-Net develops hybrid MSAT/DirecPC system for remote First Nations internet access; regional on-line training programs for local Computer Technicians established
1998 K-Net assumes leadership role in the NAN-wide Telecommunications Infrastructure Working Group; K-Net initiates infrastructure process with regional carriers
1999 K-Net leads regional participation in the CRTC High Cost Serving Area process; application to Industry Canada SMART program entered into second phase for business plan development
2000 North of Red Lake digital Infrastructure Project complete; Keewaytinook Internet High School is launched; North Spirit Lake and Keewaywin telephone service established; video conferencing and high speed data connection established
2001 Kuh-ke-nah SMART First Nations is launched; North of Pickle Lake digital Infrastructure Project complete, KOHS-NORTH (Telehealth) Network is launched.

These initiatives reflect an organizational engagement with individual First Nations - the development of community-based solutions to meet local needs and priorities - and a commitment to address regional and national telecommunications concerns. A major component of K-Net's work has been to establish ways of initiating and sustaining dialogue - consulting with First Nations communities and leaders, planning and implementing projects and moving information to where it is most needed, refining and improving on-line communication tools, answering questions from network users and acting as a meeting place for Aboriginal people and their issues. See, for example:

These successes have clearly been a Kuh-ke-nah effort. They have counted on and benefited from the help, support and planning of "everyone, everywhere" - local and regional partners and government and private sector interests. The list that follows highlights the progress that has been made. The data shows that Kuh-ke-nah has been successful in developing working relationships with many partners across a broad spectrum of projects and that it has introduced a functional model for integrating the interests and capacities of First Nations in determining their local and regional telecommunications environment. The full report on K-Net activities to improve regional telecommunications infrastructure and diffuse information and communication technologies and capacities in Nishnawbe-Aski Nation between October 1998 and October 2000 is available on-line at http://knet.on.ca/NW-report.htm

Affordable Network Access

K-Net negotiations with Bell Canada have substantially reduced the cost of regional access to broadband services. In 1998, published tariffs indicated per community access at almost $7,000 per month. K-Net's MOU with Bell Canada identifies an aggregated [bulk purchase] per community cost of approximately $3,700 per month for ATM switched guaranteed bit rate services and $1,840 per month for 1.544 mbps frame relay access - a net decrease of between 48% and 74% in the total cost of network access.

Growth in Digital Service to NAN Communities

In 1998, none of the 52 NAN communities could purchase full access digital broadband services. In July 2000, these services were available in five NAN First Nations. K-Net forecasts that this number will quadruple to 20 First Nations by July 2001. In September 2000, K-Net implemented a "proof-of-concept" broadband network in Keewaytinook communities. The following month, K-Net and Telesat Canada successfully tested a broadband solution for satellite-based communities.

Local Area and Municipal Area Networking (MAN)

A local area network connects all offices within a facility and a MAN connects the major community institutions (the school, the band office, nursing stations, constabulary) and provides a single source of live internet access. In 1998, K-Net developed and implemented an ethernet LAN/wireless MAN solution in Keewaytinook communities. Since then, this approach has been adopted by nine other First Nations.

Network Design and Strategy Development

In 1999/2000, K-Net assisted with the development of three technical strategies and more than 20 networking and broadband development proposals. Most of these products have been submitted for funder consideration and approval.

Capacity Building

Between 1997 and 2000, K-Net managed four regional networking training programs, filling over 50 training spaces in 17 communities. In addition, K-Net has provided technology support and training for the First Nations Band Manager Training Institute, the Aboriginal Teacher Assistant Program, and the NTEP program. K-Net has also developed on-line training tutorials and provided specialized skills development programs on an as needed basis.

Community Access to the Internet

In 1998, only six communities had established public computer facilities where people could access the internet. This year, people in 35 NAN First Nations have access to community computing and internet sites.

Helpdesk Services

The K-Net SchoolNet helpdesk service has seen a steady increase in the number of support calls since it began in 1996. The HelpDesk fields about 10 calls per day for technical assistance in both hardware and software applications. K-Net Services employs a full-time technician to address Helpdesk issues. In addition, K-Net staff regularly field hardware and software questions on the K-Net Conferencing system.

K-Net e-Mail Account Penetration

In 1998, there were approximately 1200 active K-Net accounts. The majority of these accounts were users dialing in to check their messages on the K-Net conference system. In October 2000 this number had more than doubled to nearly 3000 active K-Net accounts.

Website Utilization

In 1998, no NAN First Nations and few First Nations organizations maintained their own websites. Today, more than a thousand First Nations youth maintain web pages on the K-Net server, more than 30 First Nation communities have produced homepages and many First Nations organizations have used K-Net to research, host or develop their websites. For example:

The K-Net website has also provided a point of regional access for First Nations users. Between September 1999 and October 2000, the number of daily visits almost tripled (growing from 199 to 755). During the same period, the number of monthly hits grew by more than four times. In September 1999, the K-Net website was registering almost 165,000 hits per month. By October 2000, that number had increased to more than 673,000 hits per month. In May 2001, over 1 million hits were recorded on the K-Net web site for the first time in a one month period.

The Kuh-ke-nah Network is a work in progress. Our designation as Industry Canada's Aboriginal SMART Demonstration project ensures the Keewaytinook Okimakanak First Nations are able to develop and enhance the economic and social opportunities available in each community. Keewaytinook Okimakanak invites everyone to join with us to further develop these on-line services that will benefit all First Nations across Canada.

View the Summary of
Summary of Related Keewaytinook Okimakanak Projects and Partnerships involving K-Net