BlackBerry and Microsoft are partnering with professional services firm Forrest Green to launch a project with the goal of helping Canadian Indigenous communities deploy new technology to improve their health, education, safety, and economic development.

“First Nations need to own, control, and possess their own data and communications systems in order to create vibrant, self-sustaining communities.”

The three companies will bring various cloud, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and communications technologies to give Indigenous Chiefs and Grand Chiefs tools to make data-driven decisions for their communities. The project is looking to strengthen technology adoption in Indigenous communities, create culturally relevant tools for self-determination and governance, and ensure Indigenous communities have equal access to the latest tech.

“First Nations need to own, control, and possess their own data and communications systems in order to create vibrant, self-sustaining communities,” said Joseph Norton, Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawá:ke. “BlackBerry has the most secure [Communications Platform as a Service] infrastructure in the world and, when coupled with Microsoft’s world-class cloud and analytics solutions and Forrest Green’s critical systems integrations efforts, First Nations will have the technological tools necessary to manage their communities and ensure the wellbeing of their people, a significant step towards self-governance.”

For one project, Mustimuhw Information Solutions (MIS), a BC-based Indigenous software and services company focused on healthcare and child welfare across Canada, will use BlackBerry’s security tools to strengthen the security of data in transit. The project’s goal is to ensure MIS’ solutions are compliant with industry standards for sharing personally identifiable health data. In addition to focusing on foundational technologies such as cloud and secure communications, the project will also focus on implementing BlackBerry’s and Microsoft solutions for AI and IoT.

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MIS currently uses Microsoft’s Azure to deliver its Community Electronic Medical Record solution to a number of First Nations communities. John Paul, executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress and First Nations Chiefs Secretariat at Dartmouth Nova Scotia, said the collaboration between Microsoft and MIS could result in savings and efficiencies for First Nations health and social service delivery organizations.

“We are clearly in the midst of another industrial revolution, fuelled by technologies such as AI and IOT, which is bridging the divide from the physical to the digital world,” Paul said in a statement to BetaKit. “Once Indigenous communities and their endpoints have an effective model for sharing and storing data, AI models can then be trained with data from Indigenous sources to drive results that are relevant and meaningful to the communities in which they will be deployed. These models will be critical for improving the health and wellbeing of First Nations citizens and resources.”

A statement from BlackBerry stated the partnership between the three firms will also focus on enabling residents to participate in various digital skills-based education programs. There are several initiatives working to bring digital skills to First Nations communities, one of which is Pinnguaq Association, a non-profit based in Nunavut. The association incorporates science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics into learning applications to promote storytelling, health, wellness, and growth in rural and remote communities. The association recently received federal government funding through the Digital Literacy Exchange program and was named one of the winners of the Smart Cities Challenge, winning $10 million to create new locations across Nunavut.

“Effective community leadership requires both secure communications and access to accurate data to make decisions, allocate funding, and ultimately solve problems,” said Charles Eagan, chief technology officer at BlackBerry. “We’re proud to provide the Indigenous community with BlackBerry’s secure IoT communications and industry-leading AI expertise that will provide the security and privacy First Nations can trust.”

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