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Ambitious initiative takes on community challenges

A new tech initiative revealed at the Host Hotel in Kahnawake last week is hoping to uncover real numbers for specific potentially vulnerable sections of the community – Peter Phillips, The Eastern Door.

Last Friday, January 27, the Host Hotel served as the backdrop for an ambitious new tech initiative in Kahnawake.

Mohawk Council of Kahnawake chiefs met with business leaders from Forrest Green RMC, SAS Canada and Blackberry Limited, as well as Cree leaders, a chief from BC, and members of various Kahnawake organizations. Talks were focused on creating a database to prevent or help solve missing persons cases.

“There’s been enough content that’s been presented to the various participants, predominantly here from Kahnawake, to spark a lot of interest in terms of ‘how do we communicate?’” said MCK grand chief Joe Norton.

The goal of the project is to utilize servers from Mohawk Internet Technologies as a database for information on community members. The main topics include mental health, education and criminal justice.

“They laid out all their presentations, all these various companies that came and what they need, and we’ve shown them what we’ve got. It’s up to them, where we go next and what proposal is brought to our table and to the community,” said MCK chief Christine Zachary.

Leading the business effort is Forrest Green RMC, which is coordinating efforts of SAS and Blackberry, with extensive experience working with Indigenous communities.

“I saw the grand chief present at the Ontario Chiefs Conference and he came across as a very confident leader,” said Murray Rowe, president of Forrest Green.

He described the potential database as a strong foundation for future projects, noting that he was impressed with MIT’s scale and capacity.

Blackberry brings the security expertise to protect such a database, which would of course carry sensitive information. No longer focusing on the smartphone market, which it is more well known for, the company has found new success by providing secure data for governments and businesses.

Enter SAS, a company that offers quality and accuracy in analytics. They have 40 years of experience working with governments, businesses and law enforcement.

“Anyone that has data, there’s an opportunity to look at patterns and trends, and then predict outcomes,” said Doug McLaren, director at SAS Canada.

McLaren looks forward to the new opportunity; his company well established in analytics now has its first opportunity to operate in an Indigenous community. It could help prevention workers detect, early on, the psychological state of those who are at risk of suicide.

First Nations communities across Canada struggle to solve cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women so one of the motivations for such a project is the ability for said communities to organize and take action, with some reliance on federal and provincial governments.

Byron Louis, a chief from the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia, also participated in the talks. He was optimistic about the potential uses not just for mental health but also for education.

“How do we actually deal with prevention? There’s not a whole lot of resources available and sometimes technology can fill those gaps,” Louis said.

He hopes the technology can be used to reduce dropout rates by detecting signs early on, for example variables such as literacy rates can predict which individuals are more at risk of dropping out.

“I think it’s great because it will be owned by our community. The data will stay in our community, be controlled by us, owned and operated by us,” said Timmy Lahache, tech coordinator at the Kahnawake Education Center.

There are still issues to discuss such as privacy, for example, and the project does not allow for the tracking of cellphones. Talks will continue to take place in the future and there is still much to discuss.

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