Groundbreaking deal with northern telecommunications provider creates new economic opportunities for First Nations in Yukon

Thirteen First Nations in Yukon will lease fibre infrastructure to Northwestel, the North’s leading telecommunications provider.

First Nations in Yukon now own the majority of northern telecommunications company Northwestel’s in-community fibre optics.

Yukon First Nations Telco LP, a syndicate of 13 First Nations’ development corporations, has secured a new partnership with the telecommunications giant, dubbed the Shared Pathways network, which is the first of its kind in Canada.

“We’re going to own a major piece of infrastructure that impacts every citizen in the Yukon,” says Fred Koe, chair of Ta’an Kwäch’än Council’s Da Daghay Development Corporation and spokesperson for Yukon First Nations Telco LP.

On May 5 both companies announced Yukon First Nations Telco LP purchased $10 million worth of fibre optic cable assets from Northwestel.

The fibre delivers high-speed internet to Yukon communities and is being built as part of Northwestel’s Every Community Project, a three-year plan to bring high-speed unlimited Internet to every community in Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Yukon First Nations Telco LP will lease the fibre back to Northwestel at a steady rate of return over the next 20 years. Nothing will change for customers as Northwestel will continue to operate and maintain the network at its own cost for that period.

The partnership likewise benefits Northwestel with the ability to invest more upfront in northern network improvements.

A press release from Northwestel states it hopes “these partnerships can serve as a model for more Indigenous people across the North to share in ownership over the infrastructure that serves their communities.”

Koe says the partnership will guarantee economic benefits to First Nations for years to come.

“It gives us an opening to the telecommunications business and we now own parts of the assets that deliver internet services through fibre optics to each home in the Yukon.”

While one First Nation, Teslin Tlingit Council, is not part of Yukon First Nations Telco LP, Koe says the partnership is speaking with them to have them come on board.

“We’re just waiting,” he says.

First Nations to profit

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, Yukon, is one of the participating First Nations.

The First Nation is the only community not connected to the fibre network due to its remoteness, instead relying on satellite.

Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm says the partnership will nonetheless unlock new economic opportunities, ultimately improving programming and services to his community.

“When our development corporations access these new revenue streams, it gives us a better economical foundation to contribute to the economy in the Yukon,” he says.

Tizya-Tramm notes First Nations are uniquely poised to invest in opportunities like the partnership.

“I think this is a large signal about a new way that we can do business in Canada and get around many of the old issues that still plague us today around respect of our traditional territories and working with First Nations.”

Koe says the new partnership is an investment in the future.

“It shows what can happen if first nations organizations get together in a joint venture, cooperating and benefits a deal such as this.”


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