Dr. Tarun Katapally and Dr. Ken Coates are the two project leads. (Photo: University of Saskatchewan)

Mitacs, USask and U of R to support Indigenous and northern communities with new digital technologies in fight against COVID-19

Two projects led by faculty of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS)—based at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and University of Regina (U of R) campuses—have been awarded $400,000 from Mitacs, a national not-for-profit innovation organization.

The projects will introduce Indigenous and northern communities to digital technologies that can help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and provide additional economic and commercial opportunities for the region. 

Dr. Tarun Katapally (PhD), a patient-oriented research leader and JSGS associate professor on the U of R campus, is developing an app-based program that will ultimately provide Indigenous community leaders with data to assist them in self-governing and decision-making during public health crises, such as COVID-19. This research is based on Katapally’s evidence-based global digital citizen science policy solution to tackle pandemics. Data sourced will be co-owned with Indigenous communities.  

As a pilot project, Katapally will be working with community leaders and residents in Île-à-la-Crosse, Sask., to launch the app-based program. Indigenous and northern residents who volunteer for the project will be asked to self-monitor and report any COVID-19-like symptoms, and to track their movements and interactions within the community. The user-friendly app will allow citizens to be equal partners and engage with researchers in the Digital Epidemiology and Population Health Laboratory. 

With the support and involvement of northern Indigenous peoples, this app-based platform will aid communities in improving population-level containment strategies and enable effective public health communication in real time. This new technology, which is also supported by the Lung Association of Saskatchewan, is a scaled-up version of the existing SMART Platform. 

The second project is led by Dr. Ken Coates (PhD), Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation and professor at the JSGS USask campus, in partnership with the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation (Yukon) and Des Nedhe Development Corporation (northern Saskatchewan). His research team is exploring the relevance and viability of technological innovations to the unique circumstances and opportunities of the North. 

As part of a two-year project, his team will work with southern companies and innovators to explore the applicability of innovations in northern, Indigenous, and small-town environments, and to develop the means of commercializing these technologies within northern and remote communities. 

His research will focus on a broad range of products and services, including 3D printer construction, automated vehicles, remote mining technologies, alternate energy systems, remote surgery, and automated food production facilities. 


Tarun Katapally, Patient-Oriented Research Leader at the JSGS U of R campus 

“Northern and Indigenous communities are at serious risk of loss due to pandemics such as COVID-19. Apart from comprehensive testing, the most significant component in curtailing the spread of COVID-19 is developing evidence-based population-level containment strategies and policiesWe must bring people together and provide them with ethical surveillance tools to help them overcome their fear, be better informed, and help our health and financial systems monitor the situation.” 

Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation and Professor at the JSGS USask campus 

“At present, northern, remote and Indigenous communities are being left behind in the technological revolution. By working with Indigenous economic development corporations, startup companies, corporations and researchers on technologies with a northern application, we hope to ensure that Indigenous and northern communities gain more of the benefits from fast-moving technological innovations.” 

Doug Moen, JSGS Executive Director 

“Ensuring that governments and communities alike are using innovations to serve public need is important, especially as we think ahead to a post-COVID-19 world. The work that both Ken and Tarun are doing in partnership with northern and Indigenous communities is imperative to ensuring that they don’t get left behind.” 

John Hepburn, Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director 

“Mitacs is delighted to partner with faculty of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public PolicyWe believe that innovation is a powerful tool to solve the challenges brought by the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic, and we are pleased to support the use of digital technologies to help Indigenous and northern communities navigate these unique times.” 


For Mitacs news, including the following COVID-19-related releases, please visit https://www.mitacs.ca/en/newsroom/news-release. 

  • Getting research talent to companies faster: new industrial post-doctoral funding to address COVID-19 
  • Mitacs and AGE-WELL collaborate to fund innovation supporting seniors during COVID-19 
  • College interns primed to accelerate Mitacs COVID-19 research projects 
  • Mitacs links companies, organizations, networks, researchers for COVID-19 solutions 

For more information about JSGS, please visit www.schoolofpublicpolicy.sk.ca. 

About Mitacs: 

  • Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. 
  • Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, and the Government of Saskatchewan. 

About Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS): 

  • JSGS is a provincial policy school that offers a range of in-person and online graduate degrees and certificates, and a wealth of executive and board education options. 
  • Working together and alongside colleagues in the public service and industry, JSGS faculty have devoted their research to critical areas related to innovation, science and technology policy, social policy and inequality, and governance. 


Share this story