In June of this year, a team of University of Washington researchers and faculty kicked off a new partnership with the community of Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, Canada. One of the members of the team, Jason Young, is a Canadian and Arctic Studies Affiliate and a former Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellow in the Inuktitut language. He is currently a Senior Research Scientist at the UW Information School, where he studies the adoption, use, and impact of the Internet within Arctic Indigenous communities. He was joined on this trip by Spencer Sevilla and Kurtis Heimerl, two scholars from the UW Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering. Their research focus is on designing and implementing technologies to improve Internet access for historically marginalized communities.
This visit was the first of a series of trips that the three will make to Ulukhaktok, as part of a planning grant funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) program. Their project, titled ‘Exploring the Benefits and Challenges of Community-Powered Connectivity in the New Arctic’ (NSF Award #2022246, $250,000), is seeking to improve Internet quality within Ulukhaktok – a goal deeply desired by many members of the community. Throughout the trip, community members described their need for Internet access that was both cheaper and of higher quality. Some individuals described paying over $1,000 Canadian per month for Internet access that was slow and regularly experiences outages. The project team hopes not only to address these issues, but also to explore opportunities for future collaborations in Ulukhaktok. They are interested, for example, in working with the community to use the improved Internet to advance educational, economic, and cultural opportunities.
For Young, the trip was special in that it marked his first return to the Arctic since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was his first trip to Ulukhaktok, and he found the community to be incredibly warm and welcoming. Outside of project activities, he was incredibly happy to explore the land and to get another taste of fresh Arctic char. He was also excited to explore some of the language differences between the local Inuvialuktun dialects and the East Baffin Inuktitut that he learned as a graduate student at UW. He, and the rest of the team, are eager to return to the community early next year.