Off-reserve aboriginal people in Canada face "second" digital divide

On many rural reserves, First Nations people don’t have the high-speed Internet access, computers, and user skills that residents of urban areas typically take for granted.

But do off-reserve aboriginal people also face a digital divide?

A 2004 Statistics Canada study provides some (albeit dated) answers.

Written by Susan Crompton, Off-Reserve Aboriginal Internet Users was published in the Winter 2004 issue of Canadian Social Trends and relied on the results of Statistics Canada surveys from 2000 and 2001.

According to the study, the 2000 survey showed that off-reserve Canadians with aboriginal ancestry were “just as likely” to use the Internet as non-aboriginal people.

“So it appears that access to the Internet may not be the main barrier to its use,” Crompton wrote.

Indeed, the study suggested the existence of a “second digital divide” among aboriginal Internet users.

It explained: “This term acknowledges that there can be a divide between users themselves, based on whether they are frequent Internet users, are confident of their skills, use the technology effectively, or view the Internet as valuable, among other factors. Although it is less noticeable, this second divide can inhibit effective Internet use just as much as the first.”

The study noted that off-reserve aboriginal people were more likely to live in rural areas than their non-aboriginal counterparts, and these areas tended to offer poorer Internet access.

So, although 52 percent of rural and 58 percent of urban aboriginal Internet users had a home connection, just 53 percent of rural users logged on to the Internet at least several times a week, compared to 72 percent of urban users.

In addition, 34 percent of urban aboriginal Internet users described their computer skills as “excellent”, but only 21 percent of rural users rated their skills at that level.

According to the study, the 2000 survey suggests that aboriginal people have historically had less Internet access than other Canadians. Indeed, aboriginal Internet users were “much more likely to be recent learners”, the study stated.

Crompton concluded that “a gap existed among Aboriginal users themselves, separating more experienced urban users from their rural counterparts”.

“Social researchers have long suggested that there is a second digital divide, and that access to a connection is not qualitatively the same as effective use of the Internet,” Crompton wrote.

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