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What Tech Companies Can Bring to the Table for Reconciliation Efforts

A protester marches among 10,000 demanding justice for the 215 children found in unmarked graves at the form Kamloops Residential School in B.C. in June, 2021. (Photo credit: michael_swan/ Flickr)

If you’re wondering why your social media feeds are looking more orange, that’s because Sept. 30 marks National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. This year is the first instance of the statutory holiday that asks residents to reflect on the mistreatment of Indigenous people by harmful government policies, like the residential school system, and the intergenerational trauma felt today within communities.

Canadian residents can show their support by wearing orange clothing to mourn residential school children and support survivors, participate in local, grassroot commemorative events, and by reading up on the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commision report and its calls to action.

For technology companies supporting Indigenous communities often means providing technical solutions that make the reconciliation process more efficient and effective.

UNCOVERING THE REMAINS OF RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL SURVIVORS:

Canadians recoiled in horror earlier this summer as Indigenous communities found hundreds of unmarked graves on the property of former residential schools. The grim discoveries across British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba confirmed what survivors have long known, but it also thrust the ground-penetrating radar (GPR) technology into the news cycle.  

“It is important to note that remote sensing, such as GPR, is not necessary to know that children went missing in the Indian residential school context,” said Sarah Beaulieu, an archaeologist with the University of Fraser Valley, at a July press conference.  

“This fact has been recognized by Indigenous communities for generations… Remote sensing such as GPR merely provides some spatial specificity to this truth.” 

 

 

GPR works by sending energy waves into the ground via a transmitter. When these waves hit a buried object, they reflect, refract and bounce back, sending back information to a receiver. GPR system software then translates that info into an image.  

Ending boil-water advisories in Indigenous communities: 

Safe and clean drinking water remains unreachable for 32 communities in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, as of September 2021. There are 45 long-term drinking water advisories spread among the three provinces, meaning affected residents have been without a functioning water system for over a year. 

Infrastructure plays a major role in fixing this problem so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Ottawa shifted its focus to operations and maintenance in May as part of its long-term plan to prevent drinking-water advisories. As of March of 2021, the federal government has doled out $2.05 billion of targeted funds to support water and wastewater-related infrastructure projects, representing a ripe opportunity for 3D visualization companies to help plan, execute and contribute to ending a long-standing issue.  

 

 

“Our commitment to improving access to clean water on reserves does not come with a deadline, nor is it limited to our work to lift all long-term drinking water advisories. First Nations communities have now received the first installment of increased operations and maintenance funding,” said Marc Miller, minister of Indigenous services in a release. “These improvements will provide First Nations a predictable funding stream, which will assist them in making strategic plans for their communities.” 

Keeping languages alive: 

Among the harmful practices of the residential school system was punishing for students speaking their native language, leading to the loss of generational knowledge to be passed down. Statistics Canada shows a decline in the Indigenous population able to speak a native language. Just over 22 per cent of the demographic could speak an Aboriginal language in 2006. A decade later, that figure had dropped to 16 per cent. That said, the overall number of people able to speak an Aboriginal language, either as a second language or their mother tongue, went up from 1996 to 2016 by about 8 per cent. 

Partnerships with Indigenous communities and app developers are working to perverse and revitalize languages. KOBE Learn, for example, is an app developed in conjunction with the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Board of Education in Northern Ontario along with language teachers, elders and community members. The app features 500 words and phrases in Oji-Cree, Cree, and Ojibwe, broken down by various categories such as food and beverages, animals, clothing, and survival phrases. The app pairs the words with pictures, along with audio and syllabic breakdowns. 

 


“We’re losing our language at a fast pace. Even myself, since I moved away from the communities in 2008, I’ve noticed a decline in how much I speak,” said Robert Kakegamic, education coordinator for Keewaytinook Okimaknak Secondary School Service in January. “If I’m losing it at that pace, then our kids coming out of the communities for high school for four to five years, they’re going to lose it as well.” 

What initiatives to support indigenous communities come to mind, within your industry? How do you think technology can play a bigger part in the reconciliation process? Let us know in the comments.  

If you are an Indian Residential School survivor, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

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