Cambridge MA Nov 25, 2020 – Ten Indigenous media scholars and artists have been named ISO-MIT Co-Creation Fellows at Open Documentary Lab 2020-21, during the inaugural Indigenous Digital Delegation earlier this month. In a week-long series of gatherings, the delegation met with over 60 MIT scientists, staff, fellows and students. The theme of the gathering was Indigenous Knowledge, Artificial Intelligence and Digital Worlds.

Wisdom is not a topic that is taught or studied in the curriculum in our schools or universities, nor is it a practice in modern life,” said Ojibwe Elder, artist and scholar Dr. Duke Redbird, in the Delegation’s keynote public lecture, titled Dish with One Spoon, “Technology can put a man in space, or a nano-computer in every creature on Earth. Yet technology cannot answer this question, that should be asked of anything. And it is an Indigenous question. ‘Is it wise?’”

Delegates met with MIT scholars to discuss diverse domains as the decolonization of space, to re-imagining Indigenous architecture to the role of community-based governance in the genetic modification of invasive species.

“This has been an incredible opportunity for Indigenous scholars and creators to connect with folks working in our field of digital and new media, as our decolonial tools will allow for deep connections through practice and critical thinking transforming the field and the MIT campus,” said Dr. Julie Nagam (University of Winnipeg) and Kerry Swanson (Indigenous Screen Office), co-leads of the delegation. “The knowledge with which we return to our home environments and institutions will greatly impact our work moving forward into the future,” they said.

In the opening session, Prof. Wesley Harris, MIT rep for AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society), welcomed the delegation by emphasizing the need to include an “A” in the acronym STEM, in other words, to put the Arts in the teachings of Science Technology, Engineering and Maths.

Throughout the week of workshops, lab visits and pairings, delegates were matched with relevant labs and researchers across MIT to brainstorm their current works, including art gallery and site-specific installations, a Sundance-backed documentary film, research projects such as Indigenous Protocol-based Artificial Intelligence, and Indigenous-led emergent media laboratories and education programs.

Dr. Duke Redbird, Elder for the delegation, presented a Keynote address called “Dish With One Spoon”.

“We’re headed toward a world where people are being partially programmed by algorithms,” said Redbird, “In the past, Indigenous people were programmed by our symbolic symbiotic relationship with the earth. Today, a lot of what the average person will do, will be designed and motivated by algorithms, rather than by nature.”

In one workshop, a team explored building an Artificial Intelligence system based in Indigenous-protocols. Delegates Jason Lewis and Scott Benesiianaabandan met with MIT scholar Dr. James Glass, of the Spoken Languages Systems Group, whose latest research interest involves supporting low-resourced languages. The delegate team shared aspects of Anishinaabe world-view, knowledge generation & dissemination protocol, to ask if “values might be articulated in a manner that retains their cultural integrity” rather than having algorithms rely on translation from a high-resourced language.

“The energy and enthusiasm across MIT for this gathering has been unparalleled,” said Kat Cizek, delegation event designer and Artistic Director at Co-Creation Studio at MIT Open Documentary Lab. “There’s huge interest in learning from Indigenous scholars and artists, and together, transforming understandings and practices of science, arts and technologies.”

Other MIT labs participating in meetings included Space Enabled Research Group, CoLab, Games Lab, Opera of the Future, Fluid Interfaces, Sculpting Evolution Lab, and the CAST Visiting Artists Program, amongst others.

Redbird emphasized the importance of these exchanges. “It is imperative that the children of the 21st century have access to a worldview that celebrates the idea of a compassionate communion with all living things” he said. “We want the generation of the future to apply the traditional values and wisdom of our ancestors and uphold the sacred covenant to family community in nature. It is incumbent upon this speed-of-light generation, born after 1995, to explore an Indigenous worldview and use technologies to change negative patterns and rethink the manner in which we engage the environment.”

The Delegation includes Elder Dr. Duke Redbird, co-leads Kerry Swanson from Indigenous Screen Office, Dr. Julie Nagam of University of Winnipeg, scholars Dr. Heather Igloliorte and Jason Lewis from Concordia University, Jackson 2bears from University of Lethbridge, L. Sarah Todd from Emily Carr, and artists Scott Bensiianaabandan, Lisa Jackson, Caroline Monnet and Nyla Innuksuk.

This first Indigenous Delegation of its kind at MIT, was originally scheduled as an in-person event in Spring 2020. The delegates will continue in relationship with MIT as ISO-MIT Co-Creation Fellows at Open Documentary Lab for the next year. A second, more international version,  is being planned for 2021-22, on campus. 

Members of the Delegation

Dr. Duke Redbird, Elder for the Delegation

Dr. Duke Redbird is an elder, poet, activist, educator, and artist. With a legacy stretching back to the 1960s, he is a pillar of First Nations literature in Canada, and has practiced a number of art disciplines including poetry, painting, theatre, and film. He was a trailblazer throughout the 60’s & 70’s, giving voice to Indigenous people at major institutions and folk festivals across the country. From 1994-2009, he was an arts & entertainment reporter for CITY TV in Toronto. He holds a Master’s degree from York University and received an Honorary Doctorate from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University in 2013. Duke Redbird is also featured on the Grammy-nominated  album, Native North America. Duke is currently recording with The Sultans of String, and occupies the position as Elder with the following organizations: Myseum Toronto, The Toronto Biennial, Summer Works, Banff Leaders Lab, and is Artist in Residence with the Urban Indigenous Education Centre at the Toronto District School Board.  

Kerry Swanson, Delegation Lead, Indigenous Screen Office

Kerry Swanson is an arts administrator and fundraiser who has been dedicated to creating opportunities for Indigenous artists in Canada for over sixteen years. She is Managing Director of the Indigenous Screen Office, a new funding and advocacy organization promoting Indigenous narrative sovereignty on screen. She has served as both Board Chair and Executive Director of the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival, the world’s largest presenter of Indigenous screen content. She is a co-founder of Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO). Kerry was Associate Director of Granting at the Ontario Arts Council, where she launched the Indigenous Culture Fund, a $5 million annual program. She launched a number of innovative arts funding programs at the Toronto Arts Council, including the TAC Cultural Leaders Lab at the Banff Centre, Indigenous Arts Program, and the Open Door Fund. Kerry has a Masters in Communication and Culture from Ryerson University. She was born and raised in northern Ontario in a family of Cree/Ojibwe, Irish and French heritage. She is a band member of Michipicoten First Nation with familial ties to Chapleau Cree First Nation.

Dr. Julie Nagam , Delegation Lead, University of Winnipeg

Dr. Julie Nagam (Metis/German/Syrian) is a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts, Collaboration and Digital Media and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Winnipeg. She is the Artistic Director for 2020/21 for Nuit Blanche Toronto, the largest public exhibition in North America. Dr. Nagam’s research includes digital makerspaces + incubators, mentorship, digital media + design, international collaborations and place-based knowledge. She is a collective member of GLAM, which works on curatorial activism, Indigenous methodologies, public art, digital technologies, and engagement with place. She is interested in revealing the ontology of land, which contains memory, knowledge and living histories. She aims to connect with MIT researchers around the Indigenous Research Centre of Collaborative and Digital Media Labs she is building in Winnipeg, Canada. 

Scott Benesiianaabandan, Delegate, Artist

Scott Benesiinaabandan is an Anishinaabe inter-media artist working primarily in photography, audio and video. Scott has completed international residencies at Parramatta Artist Studios in Australia, Context Gallery in Derry, North of Ireland, and University Lethbridge/Royal Institute of Technology iAIR residency, along with international collaborative projects in the U.K and Ireland. Scott is currently based in Montreal, where he is completing a MFA in Photography and a year-long Canada Council New Media Production grant through Ab-TeC and Initiative for Indigenous Futures, where he is currently interested in virtual reality as a medium. Current research areas concerning AI are Indigenous languages and stories, the nature of both their loss and construction (specifically Anishinaabemowin or Ojibway) and how language builds worlds, the nature of consciousness and how AI intersects with these concerns.

Dr. Heather Igloliorte, Delegate, Concordia University

Dr. Heather Igloliorte, an Inuk from Nunatsiavut, holds the Tier 1 University Research Chair in Circumpolar Indigenous Arts and is an associate professor in the Department of Art History at Concordia University in Montreal, QC. Her research centres Inuit knowledge in the understanding of circumpolar art and art history. Heather leads the Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership: The Pilimmaksarniq/ Pijariuqsarniq Project, which aims to empower circumpolar Indigenous peoples through training and mentorship opportunities. She is working on several funded projects that focus on new media and digital arts, especially in public art installations, works for night festivals etc. While at MIT, she is also very interested to learn about MOOCs and innovative online pedagogies in relation to low/poor internet access, as some future work concerns developing online courses for the Arctic. 

Nyla Innuksuk , Delegate, Artist

Inuk artist Nyla Innuksuk makes films, media art, VR and even superheroes; in 2018, she developed Marvel’s first Inuk superhero, Snowguard. She is currently completing her first sci-fi feature, shot on Baffin Island, called Slash Back. Her short film Kajutaijuq premiered at TIFF in 2014 and she has made two NFB films: Inngiruti: The Thing That Sings!, and Finding Home (2012-13). In 2017, Nyla started NKSK, her own VR company, and became the first artist awarded the imagineNATIVE Indigenous VR/AR Residency, where she worked with A Tribe Called Red on their Indian City 360 VR project. While at MIT, Nyla is researching for a new AR piece about the Inuit concept of “Sila,” meaning breathe, energy, spirit. The piece centres around a shaman’s coat, held at Winnipeg Art Gallery. The coat belonged to Nyla’s great-great-great grandfather, and Nyla is exploring the shaman’s role in negotiating Inuit’s relationship to Sila and the spirit world. 

Lisa Jackson , Delegate, Artist

Lisa Jackson is a filmmaker and artist whose projects have shown at top festivals, aired on TV, and exhibited in galleries and community settings. Her work ranges from documentary to fiction, animation to 3D IMAX, and VR to immersive installation. Her 2018 VR piece Biidaaban: First Light was nominated for a Webby, exhibited around the world, and won a Canadian Screen Award. Her experimental short documentary Lichen had its international premiere at Sundance 2020. She’s currently working on a range of projects for TV, film and beyond, including a hybrid documentary on Cree elder and star knowledge keeper Wilfred Buck, as well as an installation/web project co-created with artist Adad Hannah and women inmates at a Canadian federal prison. She is of mixed Anishinaabe (Aamjiwnaang) and settler descent, earned a BFA in Film from Simon Fraser University, an MFA in Film Production from York University, and lives in Toronto.

Jackson 2bears , Delegate, University of Lethbridge

Jackson 2bears is a Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) installation/performance artist and cultural theorist from Six Nations, based in Lethbridge Alberta, Canada—Treaty 7, Blackfoot Territory. 2bears has exhibited his work across Canada in galleries, museums and artist-run centres, as well as internationally in festivals and group exhibitions. He is Associate Professor in Art Studio, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts Research and Technology, and Director of the Institute for Indigenous Arts Research and Technology (IARTI) at the University of Lethbridge. His present work combines post-structuralist discourse, post-colonial theory, and Indigenous philosophy to address identity, the body, heritage, ancestry and technology. He is currently working on a large-scale immersive multimedia installation, Ne:Kahwistará:ken Kanónhsa’kówa í:se Onkwehonwe, being created in the spirit and image of Haudenosaunee longhouses.

Jason Edward Lewis , Delegate, Concordia University

Jason Edward Lewis is a digital media artist and writer. He founded Obx Laboratory for Experimental Media, where he directs research/creation projects exploring computation as a creative and cultural material. Along with the artist Skawennati, he leads the Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace research network, the Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Design, and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures Partnership. Lewis is deeply committed to developing intriguing new forms of expression by working on conceptual, critical, creative and technical levels simultaneously. At MIT, Lewis is looking for collaborators who want to experiment with building computational systems (including programming languages) based on Indigenous epistemologies, and developing ideas for an Indigenous Computational Media Institute.

Caroline Monnet , Delegate, Artist

Caroline Monnet (Algonquin/French) is a multidisciplinary artist from Outaouais, Quebec. She studied Sociology and Communication at University of Ottawa and University of Granada (Spain) before pursuing a career in visual arts and films. Her work has been programmed at Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Haus der Kulturen (Berlin), TIFF, Sundance, Aesthetica (London), Cannes, Montréal Museum of Contemporary Art, Arsenal Contemporary NY, Walter Phillips Gallery (Banff), Division (Montréal) and the National Art Gallery (Ottawa). Her work is included in collections at Quebec Museum of Fine Arts, National Art Gallery, RBC Royal Bank, and Museum of Contemporary Art Montréal. Recent exhibitions include the Whitney Biennial and the Toronto Biennale of Art 2019. Monnet has made a signature of working with industrial materials, combining the vocabulary of popular and traditional visual cultures with the tropes of modernist abstraction to create unique hybrid forms.

L. Sarah Todd , Delegate, Simon Fraser University

Cree. Metis. Irish. Female. Filmmaker. Producer. Amateur Science Nerd. Ms. Todd creates educational programming for Indigenous children and their friends. She is in pre-production with Season 3 of Coyote’s Crazy Smart Science, an award-winning children’s series about Indigenous science for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). Season 3 merges Indigenous knowledge with present-day technologies while asserting Indigenous sovereignty. Todd also develops media training and production programs, including creating the IM4 Lab. The lab is based on respect, reciprocity, redistribution of wealth and Indigenous governance by Matriarchs. It is nurturing an ecosystem of technicians, storytellers and artists applying Indigenous aesthetics and storytelling methodology to immersive tech. At MIT, she is keen to connect with researchers in immersive technology, experiential learning, and using story for teaching science.