Making education opportunities available in remote communities ...
Weagamow First Nation, also know as North Caribou Lake, embraced the use of ICTs even before KO's Internet High School (KiHS) was introduced into the community more than three years ago. While some community members had access to the 'Net through such private operators such as Bell Sympatico, access was neither affordable nor dependable for most people prior to KiHS connection. The establishment of a KiHS classroom along with the broadband satellite connection into the community changed all that.
Director of Education Saul Williams says once the KiHS connection was established there was tremendous pressure to extend internet access throughout the community. "Everybody wanted community access. There was not just one champion pushing for this. If I had to name just one, it would have to be Roy Sakchekapo," he said. "But everybody wanted it."
Once the KiHS connection was in place as part of the Windigo First Nation Broadband funding proposal in partnership with K-Net Services, community offices such as the band office, the nursing station and the Nishnawbe Aski Police Services were provided with a DSL connection from the local point-of-presence. A dial-up server in the band office was added that provided residential access for $25 a month. The fees help pay for the network connection and the cost of the phone lines. Up to six lines can be connected to the internet at once using this server. On average, the server provides seventy-two hours of use per day with approximately seventy connections a day. The heaviest usage, not surprisingly, occurs between 7 pm and 10 pm.
North Caribou, however, still has not completed its last digital mile with connections to all the houses. People wanted more. Not everyone could afford the monthly fee. Not everyone had either a phone or even a computer. Upon hearing about the E-Centres in KO communities, North Caribou members decided that their community needed one too.
The establishment of the North Caribou E-Centre faced many obstacles. There was no funding available for a building, for computer equipment or even for connectivity. Still, community members pressed ahead. The Christian school donated a server and the band office offered a dozen broken computer parts which were stored in a warehouse. Lyle Johnson, a KiHS computer tech / classroom assistant used the parts and rebuilt four computers. Still, a building was required.. Community members inspected the old Wahsa classroom but it required too much renovating and they had no funding. Someone suggested that the Drop-In Centre allocate space for the E-Centre. It had a paid staff member, adequate floor space and an established track record of usage. The North Caribou E-Centre now provides connectivity during regular office hours to band members in the community.
The KiHS classroom in North Caribou has undergone substantial expansion since its creation three years ago. Last year, it provided Grade Nine and Ten credits for 21 students, seventy-five per cent of whom began their high school education in the south. On average, KiHS students earned between four and five credits per student in the KiHS North Caribou Lake classroom.
North Caribou students enjoy working with the various ICT tools available at KiHS. James Benson is preparing for a career in this field. After school during the winter 2004 semester, James provided assistance to community members who are experiencing software and hardware problems with their internet connections. Lyle Johnson, KiHS' ICT technian in North Caribou, says James has a promising future with a career in IT. Kayla Williams was the first KiHS student in North Caribou to earn the maximum number of credits in her first year and won an award for best attendance during the 2003-04 school year. She tried attending grade ten in the south but returned home to complete Grade Ten in North Spirit Lake. She is currently exploring options to continue her high school education while remaining home. David Beardy was labeled as a special needs student while living in Kenora. After his family returned to North Caribou, he continued his studies at KiHS. He has used ICTs to overcome the obstacles that prevented him from succeeding in a conventional classroom. Georgina Jones, the KiHS teacher, is especially pleased with David's progress. "He has overcome great odds and has succeeded beyond everyone's expectations," she said. "We are all very proud of him."
Students, staff and teachers are looking forward to the addition of new applications such as voice-over internet phones and videoconferencing this fall. Former M.P. and Chief, Elijah Harper famous for his stand during the Meech Lake Accord has agreed to speak with KiHS students via video conference. To see the new classroom's new website, visit http://weagamowkihs.firstnationschools.ca.
Much has been achieved with connectivity but much more needs to be done. North Caribou students were not able to effectively participate in the Grade Eight Supplementary Course provided by First Nations SchoolNet. There was a shortage of both computers with internet access and bandwidth. Both of those issues are now being addressed. First Nations SchoolNet provided new equipment for the Native Sena Elementary School Computer Lab and the bandwidth issue is being addressed by the new satellite service being supported by K-Net.
Chief Zeb Kenequanash says this is only the beginning. "We need videoconferencing and other things that the internet can provide. This is a powerful tool but we need more access and more training to use it effectively. People are still afraid of the technology but as they know more, their fears go away".
North Caribou also known as Round Lake or Weagamow Lake is a remote First Nations community located 500 kilometer northwest of Thunder Bay via air. In addition to KiHS, North Caribou is part of the KO Telehealth expansion