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Evaluating Solutions

2021 Indigenous Communities Fellowship

How can Native innovators in the US use traditional knowledge and technology to meet the social, environmental, and economic goals of their communities?

Submissions are Closed

About

About the Fellowship

In 2017, four of the Water Protectors of Standing Rock leadership 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.

As Water Protectors Phyllis Young and LaDonna Brave Bull Allard accepted the Award, Phyllis 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 Fellowship, co-founded by MIT Solve, the Priscilla King Gray (PKG) Public Service Center, and shift7 leadership. Annually for four years now, the Fellowship has launched open calls for applications from Indigneous innovators -- the first year focused on Oceti Sakowin; the second expanded to include the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribes; and the third and fourth year have invited all American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiians to apply.

Cohorts of 6 to 8 teams have been selected each year, and each provided with a $10,000 grant and a year of mentorship from this MIT Solve community, which includes a growing group of advisors and partners.

First and foremost, Solve in collaboration with shift7 and our partners aim to establish a foundation of trust and partnership in the communities with which it works. Accordingly, each year the Fellowship theme selection is informed and co-led by the communities it intends to support.

Below are some resources to learn more followed by a comprehensive history of the MIT Solve Indigenous Community Fellowship convenings sharing links to videos and other resources from those events. Regular convenings have complemented the broader Fellowship programming in enabling knowledge sharing and networking opportunities in line with the Indigenous innovators’ interests and welcome partners from all communities.

Learn more about the past cohorts of innovators:

History of Indigenous Communities Fellowship Convenings

After the call for partnership from Phyllis Young, initial planning conversations were held in the fall of 2017 at MIT, followed by MIT and shift7 teams travelling to Standing Rock for an Energy Summit and to the Navajo Nation for additional discussions. Later 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, and gathered for further collaboration in August 2018 in Standing Rock.

Concurrently, the MIT Priscilla King Grey 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 institutes and additional connections,  in 2019, the Fellowship opportunity was able to expand to include Oceti Sakowin, Navajo Nation, and Hopi Tribe communities in the United States. The 2019 Fellowship group joined the annual Solve Summit in May and then met for a weekend collaboration workshop in Pine Ridge in October 2020 (highlights) together with partners from philanthropy, academia and business. 

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. An online summit gathering was held in February 2021, with Fellows from all years invited to participate. The 2020 Fellows will also join the upcoming virtual Solve at MIT event in May 2021.

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