Indigenous Digital Self-Determination

Colin Madland

PhD Student, University of Victoria

Find these slides at

Acknowledging the Land and the People

The University of Alberta respectfully acknowledges that we are located on Treaty 6 territory and Homeland of the Métis, a traditional gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples including the Cree, Blackfoot, Métis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibway/ Saulteaux/Anishinaabe, Inuit, and many others whose histories, languages, and cultures continue to influence our vibrant community.

Additionally, I wish to acknowledge the devastating discovery of 215 residential school children very close to where I was born as an uninvited settler in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory.

A note about this project…

  • it is frustratingly incomplete
  • it was disrupted by COVID
  • it is possibly emblematic of the state of the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Indigenist Research as a Settler

  • supported by Indigenous Education department
  • research ‘by’, ‘with’, and ‘for’ Indigenous communities, never ‘about’ or ‘on’
  • locating and acknowledging yourself in history

Critical Family History

Digital colonialism: US empire and the new imperialism in the Global South - Michael Kwet, 2019

Paywalled…let me know in Mattermost if you need access.

Extractive Colonization

  • Railroads bypass local economies
  • Gold and diamonds shipped directly to the coast, then overseas

Digital Colonization

  • GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) bypass local economies
  • Uber takes a 25% premium on every ride plus hidden fees, leading to a net loss of revenue for the local economy
  • Google takes 70%* of all advertising revenue in South Africa; Facebook another 12%

*These numbers are likely much higher today.

Imperial control

  • software
  • hardware
  • network infrastructure


  • Digital Rights Management
    • companies (GAFAM) exercise complete control over how their software works and how much it costs
    • users cannot view or edit the code or share it with others



By its very design, Big Data violates privacy. ~ Kwet, 2019

Four essential freedoms define Free Software: the freedom to run the programme as you wish; the freedom to study how the programme works, and change it; the freedom to redistribute verbatim copies; and the freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. ~ Kwet, 2019

I did not realize how completely tribal sovereignty shapes daily work in Indian Country and how ICTs play an integral role in circulating information critical to the daily exercise of sovereignty. ~ Marisa Elena Duarte, “Network Sovereignty: Building the internet across Indian Country” p. 38


Pascua Yacqui tribal radio in Arizona, California, and Mexico

  • Streaming radio
  • FCC licenses cubes for radio spectrum
  • tribal lands are not squares
  • language lessons, music, news, special programs
  • Elders able to share traditional knowledge with younger generations


First Nations owned and operated ICT Service Provider serving remote communitites in Northern Ontario.

K-Net materializes a wide range of capacity building services visualized by First Nations; such as cellular service, broadband connectivity, and online applications.

Keewaytinook Internet High School

Before I began this project, I was operating under the following misguided assumptions. I presumed that most people on tribal reservations were impoverished and, as a result, had no reliable Internet or telecommunications services. I presumed that there was a fundamental zero-sum conflict between tribal traditions and digital design efforts; I underestimated the potential for Native peoples’ digital creativity. I assumed tribes were not working together to address information and communication technologies and telecommunications problems and policies in Indian Country. I underestimated the effect of colonial legacies. ~ Marisa Elena Duarte, “Network Sovereignty: Building the internet across Indian Country” p. 104