Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Indigenous DC

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One-line solution summary:

A mobile application with digital maps featuring Native American sites of importance in--and contributions to--the nation’s capital city.

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Pitch your solution.

In 2018, the First Nations Development Institute released a report indicating that invisibility remains one of the largest barriers to racial and social equity for Native communities, with the majority of non-Native Americans reporting not knowing a single Indigenous person. The Guide to Indigenous DC deploys mapping technology and application development to confront this national myth of invisibility. By highlighting sites of importance to Native peoples within, and contributions to, Washington DC, the Guide to Indigenous DC showcases the empowering stories of how this prominent city is a place of tribal gathering, presence, and advocacy with a long, rich history. Currently in the growth stage of development with more than 2,000 existing downloads, the solution team is poised to expand to the Guide to include additional cities, and to further collaborate with tribal partners and organizations. 

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Film your elevator pitch.

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What specific problem are you solving?

Many members of the public believe that Native Americans exist only in history past. The largest public opinion research project on Native Americans, published in 2018, concluded that the perpetuation of stereotypical images, erasure in popular culture, and misinformation in K-12 education generate substantial bias against contemporary Native communities. This bias manifests in a range of areas as wide as policy outcomes to racial violence, and from government relations to tribal sovereignty. In short, invisibility affects the daily lived experience of the 5.2 million Native peoples and 574 tribal nations in the United States today. 

The Guide to Indigenous DC emerged out of my experience teaching Native politics in a majority-Native university classroom. Many students, who had come to Washington, DC from tribal communities across the country, indicated feeling out of place due to the lack of representation of Native peoples. In response, I created the Guide to Indigenous DC to demonstrate to my students--and to the public--that Washington is Indian land. By coming to DC, these Native students were visiting the traditional homelands of the Piscataway people, and following in the footsteps of their ancestors by representing their tribal nations and advocating tribal interests in the US capital.

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What is your solution?

Seventy-eight percent of Americans report an interest in learning more about Native peoples, cultures, and issues. The Guide to Indigenous DC mobile application meets this need by deploying mapping technologies to shine a light on historical and contemporary Native American presence within Washington. Users of this free iOS application have access to a map of 17 sites of Indigenous importance, including photos, site descriptions, and external resources. Users can also generate geolocated walking/driving/metro directions to and from each site, or to experience a virtual tour with 360-degree on-the-ground imaging. The virtual and accessibility features ensure that users can access this information from any location. 

The publicly-facing Guide contributes to tribal historic preservation efforts in Washington, DC, and serves as a resource to primary, secondary, and university-level educational institutions who can use it in conjunction with field trips and curricula. Tribal leaders who travel to the capital for business will find value in this tool as a culturally-relevant activity. The Guide also encourages the millions of tourists who visit Washington, DC to remember the importance of Indigenous peoples to our shared national history, and raises awareness of the role of Indigenous peoples to ongoing political processes and current events.

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Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit?

The Guide to Indigenous DC application is diverse in use and therefore serves a number of communities. First, the application serves the local Piscataway community, upon whose traditional homelands Washington DC was built. In creating the Guide, the development team partnered with members of the Piscataway community to include Piscataway-specific sites and stories. In doing so, the app directly serves this community by raising public awareness of the traditional peoples of this area, and their contemporary presence today. Second, the app serves the diasporic Native American community currently residing in Washington and representing dozens of tribal nations in DC. This community also includes the many tribal leaders who travel to Washington to conduct tribal business, and the dozens of Native students who come to study in DC every year. In fact, the Guide was originally inspired by the needs of Native students, and now the app has been incorporated into the curricula at two DC universities, where it serves a number of first-generation college students. Third, the Guide offers an educational service to the general public. With millions of tourists visiting the capital each year, the app provides a free educational resource that highlights the city’s often-overlooked Indigenous history, sites, and monuments. The app has been used in K-12 schools, and can serve both local and distant students through its digital and virtual features. Fourth and finally, the Guide to Indigenous DC is poised to expand its outreach and service efforts by partnering with other cities, tribes, and organizations. The project team is currently working with the American Indian College Fund to create a national Guide to Tribal Colleges and Universities targeted toward first generation Native college students, and is beginning consultations with the urban Lumbee community to create a Guide to Indigenous Baltimore. 

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Which dimension of the Fellowship does your solution most closely address?

Support language and cultural revitalization, quality K-12 education, and support for first-generation college students

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Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Fellowship and your selected dimension.

The Guide to Indigenous DC directly aligns with the Indigenous Communities Fellowship goals of scaling technological solutions to generate positive impact. The Guide redresses the problem of Indigenous erasure in the national narrative--a problem which translates into the Fellowship’s priority issues, including health, economic development, and education. The application offers a solution to Native invisibility and it’s detrimental effects by: 1) Providing K-12 educational materials about Indigenous peoples, past and present; 2) Delivering a support resource to first-generation, Native college students in Washington; and 3) Merging mapping technologies with Indigenous knowledge to create a culturally-relevant application for DC’s Native population. 

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Washington D.C., DC, USA
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth

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Who is the primary delegate for your solution?

Elizabeth Rule

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Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your primary delegate.

Chickasaw Nation

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Is your primary delegate a member of the community in which your project is based?

Yes

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

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Describe what makes your solution innovative.

The Guide to Indigenous DC is a completely unique and innovative solution to the problem of Native invisibility in the mainstream American discourse. There are currently no competitors to the Guide, which further emphasizes the need for such a tool. The Guide to Indigenous DC is distinguished by its merger of Native American subject material and mobile application technologies, as well as its specific emphasis on the oft-overlooked presence of Native peoples in Washington, DC. Its features that enable distant access and virtual experiences further make the Guide an innovative solution. Currently, efforts aimed at education and awareness raising remain limited largely to the realm of textbooks and museums. Textbooks present educational materials, although in a primarily stagnant manner, and are often limited in scope and exclusively oriented toward historical subject matter. Museums provide great resources, but must be accessed in-person and can be costly. Thus, the Guide to Indigenous DC mobile application combines the educational materials available in museums and textbooks, but renders them through an accessible, free, digital, and mobile format. In this way, the Guide is an innovative solution unlike anything currently in existence. In its growth stage of development, the solution team is also ready to expand the platform of the Guide to incorporate more cities, incorporate additional information, and, therefore, reach even greater audiences.    

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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

The Guide to Indigenous DC solution is powered by digital mapping and mobile application technologies. Currently, the Guide exists in iOS format, but with the support of the Indigenous Communities Fellowship, will also be able to expand to an Android format. This expansion has been a top request by Guide users since its launch in 2019, and the reason it has not yet expanded to Android formatting is due exclusively to budgetary constraints. Within the app itself, the Guide utilizes digital mapping technologies to chart sites of Indigenous importance, geolocate users in proximity to the sites, generate walking/driving/metro directions to the sites, and provide photographs and descriptions of the sites themselves. Virtual users have the ability to use a “virtual tour mode” that still makes all of this information available, along with 360-degree on-the-ground views of the sites. The application technology additionally contains a text-to-voice feature to increase accessibility. Lastly, the Guide to Indigenous DC incorporates technological features to share users’ experiences with the Guide on social media. When users click this “share” feature, they can post the site of their choice (or the entire Guide) to Twitter or Facebook. These posts auto-populate with hashtags designed by the solution team in order to connect users across the digital divide, demonstrate a social media presence, and establish a digital trail of application use. On the back end, the technology platform provides the solution team with data analytics about time spent at each site, units downloaded, and heat maps of use. 

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Provide evidence that this technology works.

More than 2,000 users have downloaded the Guide to Indigenous DC mobile application in the less than one year since its launch. From here, it has generated 12,210 impressions and 452 external link clicks to additional resources provided within the app, demonstrating the use of the app as an educational resource. Users have completed 3,337 individual site views and 3,061 complete tours. Users who have signed up to the Guide’s mailing list for future information represent 15 different zip codes, indicating wide geographical impact. Furthermore, in the evaluative area, users “like” and “dislike” the tour at a ratio of 37:1. Specific feedback gained by DC university students include the following comments: “Debunks Indigenous erasure,” “It lets people know that Native people are represented at the capital,” “No other map gives this info,” “I think it helps people, non-Native or not, experience the real history of the city,” and “This inspired me in a way to not forget the past.” Together, these analytics all demonstrate that the technology and that the solution are effective. 

Please find a link to the demonstration video: https://youtu.be/HLLt-81DiCY

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • GIS and Geospatial Technology
  • Software and Mobile Applications
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What is your theory of change?

The Guide to Indigenous DC theory of change holds that Native history educational resources for the public and K-12 audiences, as well as support for Native American university students, will generate a direct impact in reducing Native invisibility in the American mainstream. Redressing invisibility, including stereotypes and misconceptions, will in turn manifest in greater outcomes for Native American communities, in areas as diverse as health and wellbeing, education and economic mobility, and cultural revitalization. 

The Guide to Indigenous DC theory of change is as follows: 

Activities: 

1) Create Guide to Indigenous DC in collaboration with Piscataway community members, locals, and scholars; 

2) Promote and disseminate Guide to Indigenous DC; 

3) Expand current platform to include additional digital maps within the application through partnership with more cities, tribes, communities, and organizations; 

4) Expand Guide to Android platform 

 

Outputs: 

1) K-12 students have access to an educational resource on topic of Native American history, cultures, and contemporary lives; 

2) K-12 and university-level educators incorporate the Guide into curricula; 

3) Indigenous university students (including first-generation) have access to a support resource demonstrating DC as Indian lands with an Indigenous community; 

4) Public users (tourists, tribal leaders, etc.) have access to this educational resource merging Indigenous knowledge and technology

 

Short Term Outcomes: 

1) K-12 audiences, university students, and members of the public understand Indigenous presence within and contributions to the United States; 

2) Success of the Guide to Indigenous DC sparks interest from even more Indigenous community collaborators to create additional maps/resources; 

3) Guide dispels stereotypes and misinformation about Indigenous peoples 

4) Native visibility increases

 

Long Term Outcomes: 

  1. Native invisibility and erasure ceases to exist as an issue

  2. Native American communities enjoy stronger relationships with non-Native communities

  3. Policy outcomes in education, health, and economics serve Indigenous communities through direct impact

  4. Tribal sovereignty and self-determination strengthens

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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 4. Quality Education
  • 9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  • 17. Partnerships for the Goals
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In which state(s) do you currently operate?

  • Maryland
  • Virginia
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In which state(s) will you be operating within the next year?

  • Maryland
  • Oklahoma
  • Virginia
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

The Guide to Indigenous DC currently serves at least the 2,147 people who have downloaded the application. In reality, I estimate that the total number of individuals positively impacted is higher, as people using the Guide may only download one unit while a whole group, class, or family uses it together (especially the case if some members of a group have an Android rather than an iOS device). In my own experience implementing the Guide with Native students at the university level, approximately 75% of the students (8 total) downloaded the app, although all students (12) engaged in its material by using another student’s phone.  

This 2,147 users figure reflects one year--the first year--of the app’s existence. One year from now, the plan is to at least double the number of people downloading and using the mobile application. Using the first year as a base estimate, I anticipate that in a year the Guide will have served at least 4,294 individuals. 

In five years, I anticipate the app growing by at least the number of users set in its first year. Through additional partnerships and the creation of new maps within the Guide app, additional audiences will be reached. Thus, the total number of estimated users in five years is at least 12,882. In summary, these numbers reflect the base number of downloads and correlate to one individual, although the total number of people with access to each download is significantly larger.   

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What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?

My goal for the next year is multifold. First, I will scale the Guide to Indigenous DC through expansion to the Android platform to reach a new audience base. Furthermore, I am currently partnering with the American Indian College Fund to create the Guide to Tribal Colleges and Universities within the existing app. Similarly, I am in the beginning stages of partnering with the Lumbee community in Baltimore, Maryland in order to create a Guide to Indigenous Baltimore digital map, which would also be housed within the existing application platform. Within the next year, I plan to reach at least 2,147 additional individual users--bringing the total number of individuals impacted to 4,294--as measured by downloads. I will also implement the Guide into the curriculum of my Native student-serving university course in Washington, DC. 

Within the next five years, my goal is to expand the digital map offerings within the app through collaborative partnerships with tribal nations and Indigenous organizations. In addition to the current partnerships, I am currently in long-term discussions with the National Gallery of Art to create a digital map of their holdings as it relates to Native American subject matter, with the Chickasaw Nation to create a digital map of sites within the tribe’s traditional and reservation lands, and at the very preliminary stages of preparing a pitch for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. I also plan to develop specific teaching materials to accompany the application that can be implemented within K-12 schools broadly.   

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What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?

The only significant barrier to continued success are the financial components. The costs associated with building the app on the Android platform, maintaining regular fixes to the apps, and research costs necessitate financial support. The Guide has thus far been made possible through grants awarded by the American Indian College Fund’s “Think Indian” fund (awarded twice), the Minneapolis Foundation and Natives in Philanthropy’s “Generation Indigenous Response Fund,” American University’s “Inclusive Excellence Collaboration Grant,” and the George Washington University’s “Humanities Facilitating Fund.” The Indigenous Communities Fellowship will be instrumental to securing additional funding that will continue to make this work possible by providing support, networks, and expertise that will lead to winning future successful grants.  

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How do you plan to overcome these barriers?

As demonstrated by the project team’s successful record of securing external grant funding for the mobile application, I will overcome the financial barrier of maintaining and expanding the Guide to Indigenous DC through further grant writing. The Indigenous Communities Fellowship will be central to identifying and obtaining both future and larger funding sources that will support the Guide’s continued existence and long term plan for positive impact. 

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Other, including part of a larger organization (please explain below)

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If you selected Other, please explain here.

Solution team is faculty at a university

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How many people work on your solution team?

1 -- I work on this solution as part of my work in academia

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How many years have you worked on your solution?

1

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Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

The Guide to Indigenous DC is managed exclusively by creator, Dr. Elizabeth Rule. Rule is the Director of the AT&T Center for Indigenous Politics and Policy, Assistant Professor, and Faculty in Residence at the George Washington University. Her work has been published in American Quarterly and the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, and her research has been featured in The Atlantic and on NPR. She is an enrolled citizen of the Chickasaw Nation.

In Summer 2019, Rule created the Guide to Indigenous DC. The app received media coverage on more than thirty media outlets, including the Washington Post, Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien, NBC News, and Indian Country Today. She has presented the Guide in invited talks at Haverford College, the National Gallery of Art, and the Freie Universität Berlin Graduate School of North American Studies in Berlin, Germany. Rule received grant support for the Guide from the American Indian College Fund, Native Americans in Philanthropy, the Minneapolis Foundation, the GW Humanities Facilitating Fund, and the American University Inclusive Excellence Collaboration Grant. She is currently transforming the Guide to Indigenous DC mobile application into a manuscript in partnership with Georgetown University Press.

Previously, Rule has held posts as a Pre-Doctoral Fellow in Anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ford Foundation Fellow, and Postdoctoral Fellow in Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies at American University. Rule received her Ph.D. and M.A. in American Studies from Brown University, and her B.A. from Yale University.

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What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?

Now that the Guide to Indigenous DC launched one year ago, I am currently partnering with collaborators to scale and expand the mobile application and digital maps. I am presently working with the American Indian College Fund to create a Guide to Tribal Colleges and Universities--a digital map of national scale that charts the history and current information behind the TCU movement and their present offerings, particularly to first generation Native American students. I am also beginning consultations with Lumbee artist and scholar Ashley Minner to create a Guide to Indigenous Baltimore based on the Lumbee diaspora in this city. 

Last year, I also partnered with the American Indian College Fund, Native Americans in Philanthropy, and the Minneapolis Foundation, who all provided grant support for the original creation and launch of the Guide to Indigenous DC in July 2019. I also collaborated with local members of the Piscataway community, the American Indian and Alaska Native Tourism Association, and faculty at George Mason University to create content for the Guide. 

Moving forward, the National Gallery of Art has approached me about partnering to create a digital map based on their Native American materials. I have also begun conversions with the Chickasaw Nation to develop a digital map of the tribe’s homelands, and am in the beginning stages of preparing a pitch for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians with a member collaborator. These are all leads I will develop as part of the Guide’s five-year plan, along with others that emerge. 

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

What is your path to financial sustainability?

The Guide to Indigenous DC has achieved financial security for the upcoming three years, made possible through grant support. In order to achieve more long term financial sustainability, the project team is relying on a combination of grant support and user donations. The Guide has thus far been supported exclusively by grant funding, and has successfully received six grants in the past year. I anticipate continued success in securing grant funding for the Guide, particularly given the existing three-year window before funds are exhausted. However, I would like to expand to larger, multi-year funding sources through the mentorship support of the Indigenous Communities Fellowship. Moving forward, I am also working to develop coding and legal parameters for the mobile application itself to allow users to donate funds to the project. After the initial launch of the Guide, costs remain comparatively low on an annual basis and, therefore, I anticipate successfully achieving long term financial sustainability through this combination of revenue streams.  

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What are your estimated expenses for 2020?

Technology/platform: $3,000; Research and dissemination: $2,000; Total anticipated 2020 expenses: $5,000

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Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)

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Why are you applying to Solve?

The MIT Solve Indigenous Communities Fellowship will be central to the growth and scaling of the Guide to Indigenous DC for direct, positive impact in the lives of thousands. Positioned for new growth opportunities and the creation of new digital maps for a variety of community partners, the Guide to Indigenous DC is at a critical moment in its development, when it will maximize the opportunities presented by the Fellowship. The Fellowship will clearly impact the financial sustainability of the Guide and associated expansions through connections with larger grant opportunities. I am also interested in drawing on the expert mentorship provided by the Fellowship to consider alternative revenue streams in order to achieve financial security for the solution. 

The strategic advice provided by the Fellowship mentors, funders, and peers will also prove incredibly useful, as the Guide is at a point where it can take on new features and goals as part of the expansion process. The resource needs assessment from a team of experts will provide direct feedback to strengthen the solution even further, especially at a point where new directions can be easily implemented. 

 Lastly, the opportunity to present the Guide at the 2020 Regional Summit and at the flagship 2021 MIT Solve event will further my goals of dissemination, so as to maximize the audiences who will access the educational materials and in order to create new relationships with future partners and Indigenous communities who would like to collaborate on digital maps to serve additional communities. 

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Solution technology
  • Funding and revenue model
  • Monitoring and evaluation
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Please explain in more detail here.

The Guide to Indigenous DC is seeking support through the MIT Solve Indigenous Communities Fellowship for the areas of solution technology, as the Guide expands and offers new features and content to users; funding and revenue models, in order to diversity revenue streams beyond the current grant funding model and in order to achieve long term financial sustainability; and monitoring and evaluation, so as to receive additional forms of user feedback during the growth process and in order to best serve larger audiences and more Indigenous communities directly. 

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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

In addition to current and identified future partners--the Piscataway community in DC, the Lumbee community in Baltimore, the American Indian College Fund, the National Gallery of Art, the Chickasaw Nation, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians--I would like to direct additional partnerships primarily toward tribal nations. Partnerships with tribal nations will serve the tribe through the same combination of educational resources, cultural revitalization, and stronger relationships with non-Native communities as made possible through the increase of Native visibility and understanding.      

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Solution Team

  • Elizabeth Rule Director, AT&T Center for Indigenous Politics and Policy, Guide to Indigenous DC
 
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