CYFN’s empty web

CYFN's empty web Re e-commerce project on hold (the News, February 4): In 1973, Yukon First Nation leaders presented a document in Ottawa to prime minister Pierre Trudeau called Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow, which evolved into Yukon Land Clai

Re e-commerce project on hold (the News, February 4):

In 1973, Yukon First Nation leaders presented a document in Ottawa to prime minister Pierre Trudeau called Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow, which evolved into Yukon Land Claims providing Yukon First Nations the right to their lands and self government. In this historic document First Nations stated:

“Many Whitemen say the Indian is lazy. What they do not realize is that the majority of the Indian people have not had an opportunity to provide for his family in the Whiteman’s world. The government has not helped to provide this opportunity. He does not have the education or skills, which allow him to make a living at something he understands and wants to do. The Indian agent and welfare officer have replaced the Indian as head of his own family.”

As you stated in your article, in 2007 the Yukon government and Yukon First Nations started a joint project that would take advantage of both the Yukon’s internet infrastructure, and provide Yukon citizens in the rural communities with both the opportunity and education to make a living using e-commerce.

A key requirement of this project was to provide an opportunity to “engage businesses and artisans in the communities towards the adoption and development of an e-commerce presence.”

The good news is that CYFN has not spent $661,000 of taxpayer money for the e-commerce project, of which the Yukon News is so critical. It should also be noted that the actual dollar amount allocated to the project through Northern Strategy Trust was $586,550, not $661,000. 

Both the Yukon government and First Nations have worked very hard to provide infrastructure, training and education to Yukon First Nations and citizens in the rural communities.

The e-commerce project oversight committee consisting of one CYFN representative, one Yukon government representative, and an independent internet expert, have always had proper controls on the project.

As your article articulated, the Yukon has not been an aggressive adopter of technology, so the e-commerce project was started with the core concept of keeping costs low and constant validation to ensure demand would make the project viable. 

During the project preplanning process, it was determined early on by the project oversight committee that creating a separate website for e-commerce was not viable when other vehicles, such as e-Bay, already existed.

A training program and training materials were developed to provide the rural communities with the education and skills to make e-commerce a reality.

In 2008, trainers went into the Teslin community to train six identified people for e-commerce as a pilot project – of whom four went through several training sessions. During that time, consultation also occurred in Dawson City, where there limited interest was shown from the community in moving to this new online product sales approach.

As part of the project, evaluations occurred after the community training in Teslin. The purpose of this evaluation was to determine if participants were using their new education and skills on the web per the requirements of the project funding. The results of this evaluation showed that project participants were not using the internet for transaction-based commerce to the extent that was desired, which prompted the project oversight committee to halt the project operations and re-evaluate their approach. 

In 2008, CYFN used internal staff costs, not the e-commerce money, to conduct research in the marketplace for e-commerce with emphasis on First Nations products for the project oversight committee.

What the results showed from this research is that e-Bay was not suited for Yukon First Nation products with an average price of $414 and a median price of $21.25. Yukon First Nation’s products historically command a much higher price.

Analysis of the Alaska First Nation Art industry showed they were using the web and brick-and-mortar operations to sell their products. The price for masks in Alaska was also much lower than Canadian First Nation artists, with the average price of $760 and a median price of $300.

Discussions also occurred with the professional First Nation art galleries in Vancouver, which also have websites.

Gallery owners indicated that their in-store customers use their website, but they get very little business for their larger artwork online and only small item sales from customers who have not visited their stores.

With this information the e-commerce project oversight committee decided to conduct one more effort to determine the demand in the communities for e-commerce.

Using recommendations from the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, an independent consultant was hired in late 2008. The results of this study will be reviewed by the oversight committee in the next few weeks to determine what steps are next for the project, or if the project should be cancelled.

If the project were cancelled, the remaining project monies allocated through Northern Strategy Trust would go back into the trust’s program for the next round of economic development proposals.

In closing, all Yukon First Nations work very hard to be accountable to both their citizens and tax payers. CYFN’s yearly financial audits are available online, which are certified each year by independent auditors from KMPG.

For the entire project to date, $167,267 has been spent, including the most recent independent consultant study.

Ed Schultz, executive director Council of Yukon First Nations,