2024 MIT Solve Indigenous Innovators Summit Showcases UArizona Programs and a New Generation of Leaders

March 28, 2024
MIT Solve

On February 29th and March 1st, MIT Solve hosted Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from the US and Canada in Tucson, Arizona to bring attention to the technology and innovations of Indigenous peoples, including their current and past Indigenous Communities Fellows. The gathering aimed to forge new relationships and examine ways they may work together to sustainably and ethically support Indigenous communities. 

The gathering opened with a chat with Dr. Karletta Chief, Diné, Executive Director of Indigenous Resilience Center at the University of Arizona. Dr. Chief shared her story and struggles pursuing career in technology and science following her grandmother’s directive to go and get education to help their community. Since she had a hard time getting support along her way, she today intentionally fosters spaces in academia that support Native American faculty as well as mentor Indigenous students.  

One of important aspects of this work for Dr. Chief is advocating for integrity of the work of Native faculty and students in Native American communities. Western approach to science and research is often not applicable with working with Indigenous communities, she shared. Dr. Chief stressed that when working with the tribes, it is important to be centering people. Users of the “solution” and the community must be involved in the co-design of research or solutions. Researchers should recognize that the community knows the environment better than anyone else, and not only they know it, they have relationships with it. That is why it is crucial to include value systems into the research design; for example, when considering taking samples of water or soil one needs to understand that these samples are considered sacred, and that special protocols should be followed in order to treat them with appropriate care and respect. And even though Dr. Chief is Diné herself and has traditional knowledge, she recommends working with designated traditional knowledge holders in order to do this work correctly. 

Chantel Harrison, who was UArizona IndigeFEWWs Fellow and Haury Native Pathways Fellow, thanked Dr. Chief and IRes for all the mentoring and helping her set up her 2023 MIT Solve winner, Indigeponics: “Dr. Chief has been such a force in my life and helped me through many personal and professional challenges. She helped me when I was a graduate student and also now when I am an entrepreneur. I love the idea of women supporting women, and Dr. Chief being there for me is inspiring me to do the same for others.”  

To read the full story please visit UArizona Indigenous Resilience Center's website.