Gus Loonskin says it’s been a long time coming.
The chief of the Little Red River Cree Nation, 750 kilometres north of Edmonton, made a two-day journey to Calgary to learn that high-speed internet will be provided to the three First Nations communities he represents.
“It’s important. It’s going to happen,” Loonskin said Thursday after the announcement from federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains.
Bains said $22 million will be allocated to bring high-speed internet to 39 rural and remote communities in southern and northern Alberta.
Three-quarters of the communities are Indigenous.
The Little Red River Cree Nation includes the communities of Fox Lake, where the majority of 5,500 band members live, John D’Or Prairie and Garden River, which is within Wood Buffalo National Park.
“Right now there’s an (ice) road but … in the summer it’s only accessible by air or by barge,” said Loonskin.
It’s especially exciting that the open-access internet will be available to school students and residents who had to make do with “spotty” service in the past, he added.
“It’s been a huge disadvantage and this will look after that.”
The funding comes from a federal program which aims to upgrade internet speeds to underserved communities.
“They will allow underserviced schools, libraries and businesses to fully engage in Canada’s digital economy. This investment will benefit five Indigenous communities as well that are particularly challenged by geography in small and remote populations,” said Bains.
The program says on its webpage that the upgrades are the modern equivalent of building roads or railway spurs into rural and remote areas to connect them to the global economy.