Transforming the Tech Sector: First Nations Technology Council

Improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in tech is vital to the long-term success of Canada’s tech industry, so it’s inspiring to see other organizations like the First Nations Technology Council doing such incredible work to evoke radical change. Based in British Columbia (BC), this Indigenous-led non-profit organization serves 204 First Nations communities across the province, advocating for digital equity and operating at the intersection of Indigenous sovereignty and the dynamic, ever-evolving technology and innovation industry.

With a board of directors representing Indigenous communities across BC, senior leadership roles held by Indigenous women, and a team of allies that share a vision of a more equitable tech sector in Canada, the Technology Council is revolutionizing our industry in a hugely impactful way.

Reconciliation and Innovation Go Hand in Hand

We spoke with Lauren Kelly, Director of Sector Transformation at the Technology Council, who raised some critical points about DEI within a reconciliation framework. Indigenous peoples in Canada are the only ethnic group whose rights are affirmed within our country’s constitution—we need to go beyond inclusion and think critically about changing the systems, so Indigenous innovation can thrive and grow.

We also need to address the countless barriers, from necessities like getting internet access to remote communities, to providing training and opportunities for emerging Indigenous tech professionals. Then, there’s the challenge of addressing existing frameworks within tech companies—the core values which underpin these organizations present fundamental conflicts that actively exclude Indigenous people. So much of DEI focuses on recruitment, but retention is arguably more important—we need to dismantle and rebuild environments in the spirit of reconciliation. Innovation can’t exist without diversity of thought, so when we embed reconciliation and innovation, the results are powerful.

Transforming and Disrupting the Status Quo

Lauren joined the First Nations Technology Council soon after completing her Masters of Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. For the past nine years, she has had the opportunity to learn from Indigenous elders, leaders, scholars, and community members and how to effectively and responsibly participate in the work to advance Indigenous rights as an aspiring ally and white woman with privilege.

As Director of Sector Transformation, Lauren focuses on outreach work with major tech corporations, helping teams to identify and dismantle covertly racist systems within their organizations.

“This most recent position is everything I’ve wanted to do in my life. Being in service of communities, creating challenging conversations, people learning about their privilege and power, covert racism—I get to support others through that learning, building a culture of allies within these companies.” 

In a culture where white supremacy is embedded in every corner of our society, participants sometimes feel overwhelmed, defensive, immobilized, or guilty. It’s like standing at the foot of a mountain—there’s so much work to be done—but Lauren and the team, which includes Chastity Davis Alphonse and Shelley Joseph (both Indigenous leaders), encourages everyone to take those first steps and to keep that momentum going.

The group workshops and conversations often have 20 or more people involved. From there, she sees a ripple effect—if those 20 people go and talk to 20 more people, and then those 20 enroll in introductory courses, our industry will continue on that path of radical transformation.

“We don’t feel like we’re checking boxes. We aren’t doing the bare minimum and saying, ‘Yay, we have achieved reconciliation!’ Through this work, we continue to look at things with a futuristic lens and think about what we’re trying to achieve together, 10, 20, 50 years down the road.”

By providing skills training for Indigenous students and helping to dismantle and rebuild institutional systems in the spirit of reconciliation, FNTC isn’t just opening doors—they’re innovating the industry of innovation itself.

Digital Equity and Indigenous Sovereignty

Upholding Indigenous rights and sovereignty is a major part of reconciliation. The Technology Council is looking at how technology can help advance this movement, by developing strategies where all levels of government and industry are working together to ensure all communities have equitable access. They’re currently completing a two-year labour market study entitles, Indigenous Leadership in Technology: Understanding Access and Opportunities in BC. It examines data from all regions and communities in BC—not just the big hotspots like Vancouver and Victoria.

Throughout this research, The Technology Council is identifying barriers and systemic issues so they can build effective recruitment strategies and dismantle racist systems that exclude Indigenous communities.

“This work isn’t ground-breaking in terms of the themes—Indigenous people have been talking about this for a long time. But now we have this concrete body of work that can speak to it, and we can build strategies based on real issues and what people want, instead of taking a top-down approach based on colonial government’s understanding of what these challenges are.”

There is so much to learn from the ground-breaking work that the First Nations Technology Council is doing in Canada. All industries—not just the tech sector—can benefit from approaching innovation through the lens of reconciliation. The landscape of Canadian technology is rapidly evolving. If businesses want to keep up, then it’s time to actively seek out Indigenous perspectives and go beyond simply inviting them to the table.

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