Batchewana First Nation is getting into the telecommunications business.
The Indigenous community has partnered with Bancroft, Ontario-based Northern Rural Networks to launch Batchewana Telecom, which aims to provide affordable high-speed Internet, phone and TV service to Indigenous and rural communities across Canada.
Chef Dean Sayers said the need for reliable high-speed internet in rural areas became apparent during the pandemic as students transitioned to a distance learning model.
“We’ve really struggled since COVID to be able to provide equitable access to a really good internet signal for our kids in our outlying communities,” Sayers said.
“We were able to come up with a solution, and we thought, let’s see if we can maybe expand that and turn it into an entrepreneurial opportunity. And that’s what we did.
Northern Rural Networks offers expertise in wireless telecommunications technology. CFO Derick Wong said with the service already provided to Saskatchewan communities, Batchewana Telecom is set to go national.
“Batchewana Telecom setting something up with Saskatchewan First Nation is our first step,” Wong said.
“We can look at opening the old trade routes between Sault Ste. Marie and Saskatchewan First Nations to do so.
Sayers said the idea of a First Nations-owned telecommunications company has been presented to chiefs across Canada and the response has been strong.
“It’s pretty exciting to think about the ability of a First Nation to find a place in commerce not only among the native communities, but some of the settler communities, some of the rural communities,” Sayers said.
Batchewana Telecom’s current network includes more than 40 telecommunications towers between northern Ontario and Saskatchewan.
Sayers said the company will be a job creator, with positions to be filled in the near future.