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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
Stories
Introduction
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)

 

The wireless warrior's digital dream

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by Patti Gower and Tibor Kolley.
The Globe and Mail, December 10, 2001

Part 1 of 7: 'This is the time!'


Ottawa The Internet Indians are gathered in small circles, around tables of pasta and wine, when the Preacher takes the stage, 45 minutes behind schedule and, to hear his words, not a minute too soon.

He's wearing urban hip - black suit, burgundy shirt and black tie, the newest costume favoured by native leaders. But with a cellphone in one hand and a pager on his belt, John Bernard wants the almost exclusively male audience to know that he lives in another world too.

"This is the time!" the Preacher of connectivity impresses upon his audience. This is the time for them "to leapfrog the Canadian economy into the global economy." For remote communities to connect with the rest of the world. For isolated, depressed youths to hook up with a vast universe. For struggling native bands to access every health and education tool that the white world has cheated them of.


Bernard knows that some native people see him as some kind of 21st-century fur trader, a half-breed they say is turning his own land into a digital colony for corporate Canada.

Bernard should know. The son of a Maliseet carpenter and his Italian-American bride, he rose from a small reserve in New Brunswick to become an Internet millionaire, national role model and self-styled prophet of the digital age. He did it, he tells the hushed audience, by keeping his feet in two worlds - by selling his native market to non-native money, and by selling non-native ideas to his native people.

The former federal bureaucrat believes this is the only way natives like those in his audience will get ahead and their communities will escape their troubles. Across the country, he says, reserves need communications technology not only to hook up with each other but also with the rest of the world. And there's money to be made from it, he adds, at least for savvy aboriginal entrepreneurs with agile minds and political smarts.

As Bernard settles into his after-dinner speech to the group of aboriginal high-tech executives, he tells the story of Donna Cona Inc., the Ottawa-based computer systems company he founded with two non-native partners. Commercially, it has been a success. Culturally, it is helping to transform many reserves.

But Bernard knows that his methods are not celebrated across the board. The big companies that provide Internet and telecommunications services to most of Canada have only a passing interest in the small and remote aboriginal communities he hopes to wire. The federal government, which he says will have to subsidize much of his work if it is to succeed, has its own worries about the risky new world of connectivity.

And then there's his own kind, both in race and profession. Bernard knows that some native people see him as some kind of 21st-century fur trader, a half-breed they say is turning his own land into a digital colony for corporate Canada. He also knows that to some high-tech people he is a modern snake-oil salesman, a half-breed they say will take good government money and run.

For his own part, he has learned to live with such prejudices, as he pushes to get to the forefront of a quiet but revolutionary native struggle. His challenge is to use technology to put an end to the North's often debilitating isolation.
THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 7):


Photo Essay
The Internet Indian


1. 'This is the time!'
John Bernard's secret to success

2. 'The phone lines are too slow'
Envisioning high-speed access as a way to close the divide between reserves

3. Inside Donna Cona
"How do I, as an aboriginal firm, continue to grow without becoming non-aboriginal?"

4. First lessons in profit motive
The indifference to getting ahead bothered me. There was so much welfare.'

5. 'They're creative, they're artistic, they're visual'
Creating a native business and working to secure the contracts

6. 'There's so much jealousy once you're successful'
Building on accomplishments in a community not always known for celebrating

7. Continuing to climb the ladder of success
One of the greatest challenges rests in his own community


 
 

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photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay


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