Nearly 20 years ago, Shawn Bannerman was a sales associate in an Edmonton Future Shop. One day, he made a sale that changed his life. Members of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation came into the store and purchased a lot of computer equipment from him.
From that, Bannerman and Mark Ilkanaev launched Aivia, a web design company that began with Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation as its first client. As the years went on, the Edmonton-based company served more Indigenous clients, expanded into software development and, now, mobile app design. Included in that is a Stoney language dictionary, available as an app.
Aivia’s most popular product is Communikit, which bridges the communications gaps that exist in First Nations. Users tap into Communikit to learn which programs are offered at the band office, the deadlines to apply — and even find out if snow is going to keep the school buses from running.
For Bannerman, being in business is about more than dollars and cents.
“What kind of mark are we leaving?” says Bannerman. “That’s what’s drawing me to First Nations. It’s one of the largest issues that the country faces.” He says Saddle Lake Cree Nation used Communikit to make residents aware of food hampers that were available; it moves him when the technology is used to make such simple, yet important, differences in people’s lives.
The app was designed after the Driftpile Cree Nation, located on the shores of Slave Lake, came to Aivia with a problem. There was a huge gap in communication between the band office and its people.
“How do you let the people know what services are available?” Bannerman says. “There’s a disconnect between those who need the services and those who are providing it.”
As well, many First Nations residents don’t live on reserves or anywhere close to the band offices. So, they can’t just stop in to see if there are new notices on a bulletin board.
Using push notifications through mobile devices, Communikit gets the word out in a way that’s more reliable than other electronic means. And, unlike social media, the message doesn’t get lost in threads that go off topic.
“With Facebook and other social media, you can’t really keep messages and discussions on topic,” says Chris Bull, the technical writer of the app. “Sometimes, with social media, you’re just wanting to get some information out there, but then someone starts an entirely new conversation in the comments.”
Darrell Brertton Jr., a member of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, is the company’s software sales consultant — and a champion powwow dancer. He believes the app sells itself. He says a total of nearly 30 First Nations, tribal councils, Métis Nations and Indigenous organizations have already adopted Communikit.
“The reserves that are far from the cities, they have next to nothing for services,” says Brertton. “A lot of reserves, in all honesty, are like Third World countries. It goes hand-in-hand why these reserves don’t already have this technology… but, there’s a lot of progressive Indigenous communities, and they’re finding it’s best to be equipped in both worlds — being in tune with our traditions, our culture, our ceremonies, our language, but also being equipped in modern-day, Western society in regards to apps, business and the way of doing deals.”