The Centre for Indigenous Innovation and Technology and Akawe Technologies are fostering inclusion of Indigenous peoples in the technology sector. Their work brings social and technical innovation together to create space for Indigenous people to solve issues through technology using an Indigenous lens. Both organizations were founded by Jarret Leaman, a member of the Magnetawan First Nation in southern Ontario. Leaman is passionate about Indigenous economic development, technology, reconciliation, and building leadership capacity within the Indigenous economy. He is the recipient of the Sovereigns Medal of Honour, an award bestowed by the Governor General of Canada, and has been recognized as one of the Top 3 Indigenous Millennials in Canada by the Huffington Post. Leaman founded the Centre for Indigenous Innovation and Technology (CIIT) in Toronto in 2017, and cofounded Akawe Technologies (Akawe) shortly thereafter. CIIT is non-profit, and Akawe is for-profit. They serve different roles, but work in harmony to bridge the digital divide that exists between Indigenous communities and the Canadian economy. Poor internet infrastructure, inadequate education, and geographic remoteness are just a few of the factors that have contributed to a lack of technical capacity in Indigenous communities. As the pace of technological advancement quickens, the divide grows more acute. This deprives Indigenous peoples of important tools for meeting their own needs and leaves them open to losing control of their own data. Today, Indigenous peoples represent just 1.4 percent of professionals with a post-secondary STEM credential despite making up almost 5 percent of the total population. This might not seem like much, but it represents tens of thousands of professionals whose skills are sorely needed in the Indigenous economy. CIIT knows that this need is a tremendous opportunity for Indigenous peoples and the technology sector. The Indigenous population is young, is the fastest growing demographic in Canada, and is largely urban, making it a valuable source of labour for an industry facing shortages. For Indigenous people, working in tech offers several benefits. Technology accounts for 7.1 percent of Canada’s economic output. The sector is growing considerably faster than mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction where many Indigenous people work. Tech employees earn significantly more than the national average and are often not bound by location, making technology jobs an ideal fit for remote Indigenous communities. But it’s not just Indigenous professionals who would benefit from greater inclusion. “Better technological capacity leads to better outcomes,” says Leaman “Technology and data-driven approaches can improve governance in Indigenous communities which leads to things like better infrastructure construction and better education. We give people those tools and they self-determine what to do with them.”
“The accelerator is designed to get more Indigenous people into the technology sector,” says Leaman I N C L U S I O N CIIT was created to increase Indigenous representation in the technology and innovation sectors. The Centre is all about developing and promoting the next generation of leaders. “We bring the right partners together to ensure the technology sector is meaningfully engaged in reconciliation and creating space for diversity in the workforce,” Leahman notes. CIIT’s programming has three pillars: research and advocacy, a collaborative innovation network, and a tech skills accelerator. With research and advocacy, CIIT aims to gain a better understanding of Indigenous impact on the technology sector, including labour trends, contributions of Indigenous technology and innovation to the economy, and creating a positive narrative about Indigenous peoples in the innovation and technology sectors. With their collaborative innovation network, CIIT aims to convene private, public, academic, and non-profit institutions to create and improve technology training, promote Indigenous innovation, and discuss how technology can be used to better the Indigenous economy. CIIT’s tech skills accelerator provides on-the-job training to Indigenous peoples in the areas of software testing and quality assurance, the basics of blockchain, software projects management, entrepreneurship skills, security, and leadership and culture. Participants in the accelerator receive a housing stipend, salary, full stack technology, and a workspace and equipment. “The accelerator is designed to get more Indigenous people into the technology sector, into good jobs where companies understand them and make good use of their skills,” says Leaman. Whereas CIIT’s mission is research, collaboration, and increasing representation, Leaman founded Akawe to provide entrepreneurs and communities the tools they need to harness the power of data and technology. “Through customized software and blockchain technology we’re helping Indigenous communities achieve data sovereignty, optimize their operations and governance, and empower their members,” says Leaman. There are currently very few technology companies that understand and focus on the needs of Indigenous and other marginalized communities. These communities need more than just off-the-shelf strategies and software. Akawe offers a relational approach to working with their clients that’s guided by the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabe. Together, CIIT and Akawe are providing the personnel and technological infrastructure necessary to create a vibrant Indigenous technology sector. Leaman doesn’t pretend to know all the ways that communities will find to use technology to achieve their goals, but he is confident in a future where Indigenous peoples are not only included, but are leaders in using technology to sustain culture, promote health, and solve problems through an Indigenous lens. Leaman’s message to other Indigenous people is to not be afraid to pursue STEM studies and a career in tech. “We need to have people entering the sector, which involves going to school and mastering “The accelerator is designed to get more Indigenous people into the technology sector,tech space,” and urges more Indigenous and Indigenous-focused entrepreneurs and organizations to join the urgent work of bridging the digital divide.