Monday, 11 August 2014

My ICANN Experience

As the great gaggle in the sky shares with us, 
when smaller communities come together, 
unified as a larger community, 
we can travel greater distances with a 
shared mission and shared leadership.
-Philosophy of Geese

I find myself greatly honoured, as an Indigenous community representative, to have just been a part of my most intense– intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically - ICANN meeting experience within the three-month ICANN Mentorship Program.  Although it appears that ICANN meetings are often subject to information overload for newcomers, ICANN50, which included ATLAS II, opened my eyes to the magnitude of the DNS industry and Internet Governance dialogues, and the opportunities that exist for the Indigenous community as a whole. 

Initially, when I first received my invitation to participate in the Mentorship Program at ICANN 49 in Singapore, I was unprepared for the amount of new information about the DNS industry and Internet Governance topics that I must be familiar with prior to the meeting itself.  This was due not to lack of effort by the ICANN staff or my mentor Eduardo Diaz, but to lack of time.  Indeed, the global dialogue has been going on for years - and there is a change occurring that will affect us all - now is the time for the Indigenous community to become fully engaged in these discussions and policy development processes.  It will be a milestone in history, when Indigenous people solidify their presence within the Internet Ecosystems – while maintaining the protocols that have preserved and disseminated Indigenous knowledge from one generation to the next, since time immemorial, and protecting their cultures within this expanding, open and connected virtual unseen environment.

On reflection, this program was the step in the right direction to empower Indigenous community participation. Without a doubt, the perspectives and feedback I provided throughout the ICANN experience can be the foundation to connecting with geo-graphic cultural groups on the marginal side of the social, economic, political and digital divides. Potential new participants will need the necessary supports within this mentorship program to facilitation their active participation in the ICANN multistakeholder community and global Internet Governance dialogues – possibility a much larger community with unfamiliar players - and an industry that will need to become accustomed to interacting with diverse geo-graphical cultural groups that have unique perspectives of the world around us.  Moreover, Indigenous communities have centuries of environmental stewardship and consensus build experience beneficial, and needed, to guide the evolution of the Internet ecosystems and become leadership partners in this virtual industry.

It may be true that the original idea of the Pilot Program was to be offered specifically to First Nation participants, but once the program was approved, it provided an opportunity and experience for a group of three individuals – from different geo-graphical regions and backgrounds - that may not have otherwise come together without the support of this program. Even so, the Mentorship Program has great potential to empower participation from the Indigenous community and would be a positive investment for ICANN – should the program continue.  Obviously, there was much discussion and planning within the ICANN community - particularly within NARALO – about developing and testing a fast track process for communities on the marginal side of the digital divide – before the three of us were selected.   As experience has taught me, such programs can bring highly talented and confident community members to the table and it sometimes requires innovative approaches to be inclusive of groups and individuals – those who can make valuable contributions -  that may not have the financial resources or may fall outside, or within the gaps, of the current engagement program design.

To be sure, I was faced with the challenges of thinking globally and adapting to a faced paced volunteer environment, including being an advocate for an under-represented diverse community.  Indeed, while fulfilling my commitment, it was not without the support and collaboration of the ICANN Staff and ALAC members or Mentorship program leaders, each who offered information, connections and total support.  Guided by Fouad to constantly challenge my own reasons for accepting the invitation – or to see a global perspective of the discussions- and my Mentor, Eduardo with the leadership teams of the RALOs - facilitated my active participation within the meetings. I also became an active member in the Accessible Taskforce at ICANN49 and a member of the At-Large Social Media Working Group for ICANN50, and Manitoba E-Association has recently received accreditation as an At-Large Structure.

I also would like to acknowledge the other two mentees, Gunela and Mercy – each brought a wealth of knowledge, enthusiasm and initiative to the program, and I am grateful to have shared this first experience of the ICANN Mentorship program with these two wonderful women.  As explorers in new territory, we added our own distinctiveness to the program experience, and build upon the success of the each phase of the program to open the door for others join and participate within the ICANN community. 

As for myself, there is no denying that this program opened my eyes to my role as an Internet Citizen and, instilled an awareness of our shared stewardship responsibility over the Internet.  I observed the passion  and dedication of each participating  community member to raise the question of, and ensuring, the protection of end-user rights, and the divergent perspectives that discovered, or created, the various components necessary to make up the multistakeholder governance model – like the geese, we can travel greater distances together.

Although I am truly saddened that my participation in the Pilot Program is come to an end, I feel that there ultimately is an opportunity for my continued participation through Manitoba E-Association as an ALS, and for ICANN to assist and offer support to increase the Indigenous community participation and presence at the meetings, and in the policy development process. A big thank you to all those who support this program and to those who made me feel welcome.  Kinanaskomitinawa!

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