“(It’s) imperative to ensuring that they don’t get left behind.”

University of Regina Professor Tarun Katapally is one of two researchers receiving $400,000 from innovation non-profit Mitacs to help hard-hit northern Saskatchewan communities, a Wednesday news release announced.

Katapally, a population health researcher, is developing an app with Île-à-la-Crosse residents to provide key decision-making data to Indigenous leaders during the pandemic. The app allows residents to voluntarily report any COVID-19-like symptoms, tracking their movement in the community to better inform containment efforts.

“Northern and Indigenous communities are at serious risk of loss due to pandemics such as COVID-19,” Katapally said in a Wednesday statement. Those challenges for northern residents include comprehensive testing and collecting evidence for containment strategies.

“We 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,” he said.

Any collected data is co-owned with the Indigenous communities. Katapally said he hopes the information will assist real-time messaging during public health crises.

University of Saskatchewan Professor Ken Coates heads the second project, which aims to explores the northern viability of a range of technologies. Those run the gamut from 3D printing construction to automated vehicles and remote surgery.

The two-year project is a partnership with southern businesses, and with Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation in Yukon, and Des Nedhe Development Corporation in northern Saskatchewan.

Coates said northern communities are “being left behind in the technological revolution.” His work aims to close this gap by partnering with Indigenous economic develop corporations, researchers and the private sector.

“(W)e hope to ensure that Indigenous and northern communities gain more of the benefits from fast-moving technological innovations,” he said.

Both projects are part of U of S and U of R’s Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, which executive director Doug Moen said is doing work “imperative to ensuring that (northern and Indigenous communities) don’t get left behind.”

Mitacs CEO John Hepburn said the use of new digital technology will help the region “navigate these unique times.”