What is the name of your solution?
Indigenous outdoor media
Provide a one-line summary of your solution.
Transforming outdoor media through indigenous cultural connections to landscapes
What specific problem are you solving?
Storytelling and media create have powerful impacts on shaping narratives, transforming culture, and motivating action toward the challenges we face globally. Outdoor media, specifically, has the power to share compelling stories and ideas from the landscapes which indigenous people have stewarded for millennia. The size of the industry which this storytelling sits is staggering. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 1.8 percent ($374.3 billion) of current-dollar gross domestic product (GDP) for the nation in 2020. We constantly ask why are there not more Native people in this industry occurring on our ancestral homelands? In recent years there has been a broad push to increase diversity in front of the camera within the outdoor industry. Yet, we have also seen that the diversity behind the camera within the outdoor industry remaining unchanged. Indigenous people continue to rely on their stories being filtered through lenses that do not fully understand their lived experience not to mention the missed economic opportunity to make a living.
The causes of this challenge are not unique and share significant overlap with many of the other barriers facing indigenous communities in entrepreneurship such as access to capital, access to education/mentorship, and culturally appropriate solutions. Storytelling through film and photography requires significant amounts of capital for equipment – an entry level cinema quality camera setup can easily cost upwards of $20,000. In addition to this cost, a non-trivial amount of training and expertise is needed to operate a camera, produce a film shoot, and finding funders. Outdoor media often layers on a need for having skillsets and competencies that go far beyond "traditional" modes of film making and media creation. For example, ski filming layers on an entire level of challenge: a need for a high-level physical fitness and technical competency skiing in a variety of conditions; a deep knowledge of avalanche safety and travel; wilderness first aid training; and camping in snow. Each of these skillsets requires both incredible amounts of money, resources, and time to attain. Broadly speaking, the pathway for most individuals pursuing these careers within the Outdoor industry have been through apprenticeship style models which easily filter out individuals without resources or networks. In many instances the pathway to developing these skills often occurs in largely white-dominated environments that can post challenges for native peoples navigating this pathway.
What is your solution?
The solution to this challenge is simple: we are simultaneously creating the athletic and creative pathways for indigenous people to succeed in the outdoor industry through our company NativesOutdoors. At our core, NativesOutdoors is a creative agency focusing on filmmaking, photography, storytelling, and consulting in the Outdoor industry while building the skills and talents of indigenous people through the projects we take on. Wherever possible we hire and work with indigenous talent, and when we cannot, we find appropriate partners who are invested in building the capacities of native peoples.
Our approach to how we operate NativesOutdoors is informed by Native Nation Building Theory (NNBT). Specifically, we implement the tenants of NNBT as company in the following ways: (1) We strive toward building and practicing high levels technical competence and expertise in the work that we do; (2) Our work must be a cultural match for the communities we come from; (3) We are strategically oriented toward the long-term implications of our work in our communities; (4) We are grounded in public-spirited leadership.
Our dedicated work over the past 5 years using this approach have begun to blossom.
- In 2019, “Welcome To Gwichyaa Zhee”, a film about the Gwich’in peoples fight to protect the arctic refuge, was accepted into 40+ film festivals in 12 countries and led to a testimony in congress by director Len Neceferon energy leasing on federal lands.
- In 2020, we partnered with the Rural Utah Project to increase native voter turnout in the 2020 elections through the Rural Arizona Project throughmedia and social media organizing.
- In 2021, we produced “Spirit of the Peaks” in partnership with Wondercamp and REI. As one of the few Indigenous professional skiers, Connor Ryan is caught between his athletic passion and cultural obligation. Being Hunkpapa Lakota, Connor travels deep into Ute territory to navigate the interconnected web of relationships that he must first respect and learn from to bring the spirit of the peaks back into balance, guiding him to embrace Indigenous ethics that confront issues facing everyone who loves the mountains. The NativesOutdoors team was responsible for directing, engagement with the Ute tribes on the story, and the entirety of the ski filming on this project.
- In 2021, we partnered with Visit Idaho, the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe, and the Couer d’Alene tribe to share a series of films and written stories focused on 6 native artists.
- In 2022, we partnered with Winter Park ski resort to develop a ski program for Native youth in the Denver region and also produce a series of commercials for the resort.
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? In what ways will your solution benefit this community?
Our team consists of 17 partners representing 14 nations across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In addition we actively work with a number of other native and non-native talent on a project by project basis. At our core our work and projects are driven collectively by all 17 of these individuals. As a company we support each of these individuals by actively supporting their projects, connecting them with resources and networking, and providing other support where needed. For larger projects such as Spirit of the Peaks & the Visit Idaho project we developed advisory boards, comprised of leaders of each of the Tribes, to guide the creative direction.
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
We work directly at the intersection of the outdoor industry and native communities within the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Our team consists of a wide-ranging set of technical skillsets such as climbing, mountaineering, film making, production, federal-Indian law, energy and environmental policy, graphic design, traditional medicinal and ceremonial practices, and entrepreneurship. Our team also represents a diversity of indigenous identity: urban/reservation, status/non-status, military service, and a spectrum of connection to culture and language traditions. In addition to the diversity of our team,our online media platform of NativesOutdoorsconnects us to a wide swath of indigenous people across North and South America. This online network and our connections to native communities through our previous work has allowed us to adapt and improve our strategies over time.
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Tucson, AZ, USA
Our solution's stage of development:Growth
How many people does your solution currently serve?
We have worked with 47 native athletes, filmmakers, and creatives in the past 3 years.
Why are you applying to Solve?
In the past two years NativesOutdoors has seen substantial growth and several major successes, however, we have also begun to recognize internal and external barriers and limitations that we face in scaling further. We are limited in the connections that we have to investors and other sources of wealth given the communities that we as a team come from. We also recognize that we do not currently have the knowledge or skillsets to navigate this arena in a manner that will ensure our success or that we can find partners that understand where we come from. We also recognize that we need to build our internal capacity in areas of finance, branding/marketing strategy, and identifying new clients to expand our work. We believe that the MIT Solve community will allow us to tap into a network of individuals who can help us navigate these bigger questions.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your Team Lead.
Is the Team Lead a resident of the United States?
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
Support the creation and growth of Native owned businesses and promote workforce programs in tribal communities.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
In which states do you currently operate?
In which states will you be operating within the next year?
What type of organization is your solution team?
For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models
How many people work on your solution team?
4 full time, 13 part-time contractors
How long have you been working on your solution?
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?Organizations (B2B)
What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?
We have three revenue streams: (1) Consulting with business, non-profits, and government; (2) Media and storytelling work: documentary and commercial filming; (3) Selling merchandise