EUGENE, Ore. — This week, the University of Oregon hosted its first Oregon Tribal Broadband Bootcamp, where representatives from tribes all over Oregon learned how to expand internet access and improve the digital divide. The event was the first event of its kind in the state.
Jason Younker, UO’s assistant vice president and chief of the Coquille Indian Tribe, said that the five-day boot camp takes on a challenge many rural tribal communities face.
"We do not have the internet connectivity that everyone else does," he explained.
Younker said the issue was amplified ten-fold when the pandemic hit and access to the internet became critical to remote learning.
"So here you have a mandated education in a virtual presence, yet you don’t have virtual capability at your reservation," said Younker. "We had kids sitting in their school’s parking lot trying to do homework before the internet was shut off."
That’s a fact he said people often find hard to believe.
"They see tribes ... they believe casinos solve all the problems, but sometimes when you are rural these types of things just don’t solve themselves," added Younker.
That’s where the Oregon Tribal Broadband Bootcamp comes in. Fifty tribal members from around Oregon and the Pacific Northwest attended the event to learn the nuts and bolts of establishing and improving internet infrastructure in their communities. Topics ranged from funding opportunities to building wildfire cameras, and hands-on sessions on how to crimp and splice cables.
Methius Barney is from Burns, Ore. and is a member of the Burns Paiute Tribe. He attended the boot camp to eventually give back to his community.
"It’s a rural area, our connection is not always the best," said Barney. He hopes to one day expand his tribe's broadband with the things he’s learned at the boot camp. "To improve and make it even better for my children and hopefully make it better for them to keep our culture and our tribe alive."
"We want them building out for the next 20-50 years," said Younker, "so that they know and have confidence that what they build there today will be there for future generations."
The solution to this problem may start here at the University of Oregon, with far-reaching impacts for rural tribal communities.
The Oregon Tribal Broadband Bootcamp runs until Thursday this week at the Ford Alumni Center.