University of Oregon hosts bootcamp on improving internet access for tribes, rural communities

Two of the Tribal Broadband Bootcamp attendees sit in a session.

Brian Bull / KLCC

This week, Native Americans from across the region and beyond are gathered at the University of Oregon for its first Tribal Broadband Bootcamp.

At the Ford Alumni Center, about 50 people sat inside a dark room filled with hardware, hardhats, and equipment, to watch multimedia presentations on network development, funding, and cable crimping and splicing.

Matthew Ballard is with the Shinnecock Indian Nation, based in Long Island, New York. Generally regarded as the tribe’s “Mr. Fixit”, he’s traveled nearly 3,000 miles to attend this event. Ballard says historically, Native people have been left behind in technological initiatives, hampering many essential tasks.

“Basic things like paying bills, interacting with our governments, being able to start new businesses and reach our customers,” Ballard told KLCC. “So it is important for tribes to be here to keep on the leading edge of technology and make sure we’re not falling further and further behind.”

Matthew Rantanen is a Cree tribal member and director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association. He’s also the boot camp organizer who initially began with inviting people to his house when COVID disrupted lots of earlier plans.

Looking out across the room full of attendees, Rantanen says he’s pleased with how this UO bootcamp has worked out.

“Our biggest goal is to bring people together because they become a human network, right? We’re talking about broadband networking but we have now a human network of people that they can rely upon for resources, troubleshooting and things, and they know they’re not doing this alone.”

The pandemic has especially driven tribes’ needs for broadband since it arrived in Oregon in 2020.

Jason Younker is chief of the Coquillle Tribe, and serves as the UO’s assistant vice president and adviser to the president on sovereignty and government to government relations.

“If you just think about tele-med, or there’s a wildfire and your connectivity is out, then you are extremely vulnerable. Education is mandated. So when a pandemic comes through, you need to have that connectivity.”

The Oregon Broadband Office says there’s federal funds coming soon from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2021. Each state is expected to get at least $1 billion for rural and tribal broadband.

Funding for UO’s Tribal Broadband Bootcamp includes support from the Oregon Broadband Office, the UO’s Network Startup Research Center, Link Oregon, the Burns Paiute Tribe, the Tribal Digital Village Network and the First Nations Developmental Institute.

Copyright @2022, KLCC.

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