Dr. Rob McMahon receives SFU Dean's Convocation Medal for thesis on First Nation connectivity

From SFU.ca

Dr. Rob McMahon


Dr. Rob McMahon receives Dean's Convocation Medal

June 09, 2014

Dr. Rob McMahon's groundbreaking doctoral research into the appropriation of broadband and internet technologies by First Nations and Inuit communities in Canada is a perfect example of how SFU's graduate students engage the world.

Not only did he consult deeply with Indigenous communities to ensure that their voices were heard in each step of his research, he also helped create a website where they can share their digital adoption strategies and successes with each other through stories and videos. His field research in remote fly-in villages in northern Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba highlights the many innovations taking place at the so-called 'peripheries' of the emerging network society.

Dr. McMahon's dissertation examined how Indigenous peoples are encoding their self-determination in broadband infrastructures, non-profit organizations, governance structures, policy and regulatory frameworks, and applications. It has broad implications for Indigenous and marginalized communities around the world.

Dr. Peter Chow-White, his supervisor, says, "All of Rob's committee members have encouraged him to turn his dissertation into a book due to the urgent need for his research to be part of public policy and community discussions. His work embodies action-oriented research and he has shown the intellectual ability and creativity to make an immediate and sustained impact on the field."

Over the course of his academic career, Dr. McMahon has published several journal articles and book chapters, including collaborations with First Nations and Inuit community researchers. Through the First Mile Project, supervised by Dr. Richard Smith and funded as a Public Outreach Grant through SSHRC, Rob facilitated the production of over 70 digital media stories showcasing Indigenous-led technology initiatives. This work is housed on First Nations servers, illustrating how the First Mile concept encompasses both content and carriage.

His work includes efforts to engage with communities and policy-makers. For example, Dr. McMahon coordinated a regulatory intervention before the CRTC in summer 2013. A national coalition of First Nations telecommunications service providers appeared before the Commission to argue for opportunities to build and operate their own telecommunications infrastructures and services in the far North. Rob is also developing a freely available, open access online course about colonialism, development and the e-Community that is aimed at students living in remote and rural Indigenous communities.

Dr. McMahon's PhD research was financially supported through several awards, including a PhD fellowship from SSHRC and the CanWest Global Graduate Fellowship in Communications. His field work in remote northern communities was financially and administratively supported through Keewaytinook Okimakanak K-Net ServicesTamaani Internet Services, and the First Nations Innovation Project at the University of New Brunswick.

Along with his committee and research partners, Rob adds his thanks to the people living in the unique and vibrant communities that he works with, saying, "We have so much to learn from the creativity and tenacity of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada."

Dr. McMahon is now working as a postdoctoral fellow with the First Nations Innovation Project at the University of New Brunswick. This project is a partnership with three regional non-profit First Nations technology organizations: K-Net Services in Ontario; theFirst Nations Education Council in Quebec; and Atlantic Canada's First Nations Help Desk. Dr. McMahon is presently engaged in community-based research projects in Kahnaw√†:ke Mohawk Territory and K'atlodeeche First Nation, a Dene community in the NWT. This work is examining the diverse ways that Indigenous peoples are shaping ICTs to support economic and community development in areas like fibre-optic networks, digital data management, and policy advocacy. Since his graduation in summer 2013, Rob's findings have been published in the Journal of Information PolicyMedia Development, and a special issue of the Journal of Community Informatics focused on the First Mile.

In the future, Dr. McMahon hopes to continue exploring ways that university and community researchers can learn from one another: "Given the uncertainties of our present and the insecurities of our future, the lessons learned from First Mile projects may be of use to people engaged in similar efforts to leverage broadband infrastructures and services to support their digital self-determination."

On behalf of SFU, we congratulate Dr. Rob McMahon on his outstanding achievements which are being recognized with the award of the Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation Medal as one of SFU's most outstanding graduate students from the School of Communication, Art and Technology.