In 2017, the Water Protectors of Standing Rock came to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as finalists for the MIT Media Lab Disobedience Awards, which recognize individuals and groups who engage in ethical, nonviolent acts of disobedience in service of society.
The Water Protectors of Standing Rock were honored for bringing together the largest gathering of Native Tribes in more than a century to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
In her acceptance speech, Water Protector Phyllis Young challenged MIT, saying “I know MIT is the brass ring of technology, and I’m seeking a partnership. I’m not content to go home with this [award] … The rhetoric is over in America; it’s time for action.”
This call to action sparked the MIT Indigenous Communities Project led by MIT Solve and the Priscilla King Gray (PKG) public service center, in collaboration with shift7. In 2018, MIT Solve launched a pilot Fellowship with the Oceti Sakowin community focused on sustainability. Six Fellows were selected with projects ranging from renewable solar energy to community gardening courses. Fellows attended Solve’s flagship event, Solve at MIT, in Cambridge in May 2018 to share their work and network with potential partners across the Solve community.
Concurrently, the PKG center partnered with the MIT Terrascope Program, a first-year learning community, creating an indigenous-centered curriculum for student engagement, “Tradition, Technology and Transition: Water Security on the Navajo Nation.”
Utilizing these institute connections, MIT Solve was able to expand its Fellowship opportunity in 2019 to include Oceti Sakowin, Navajo Nation, and Hopi Tribe communities in the United States. In 2020, through a partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership (SIGP), Solve was able to expand the third year of the Fellowship across the entire US.
First and foremost, Solve and our partners aim to establish a foundation of trust and partnership in the communities with which it works. Accordingly, each Fellowship theme must be informed by the communities it intends to support.