Celebrating Indigenous voices at MIT

October 4, 2023

In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, we want to highlight recent scholarship at MIT celebrating Indigenous knowledge and identities. Please read about the exceptional work of graduate students, visiting scholars and MIT programs celebrating Indigenous culture. 

Steven Gonzalez, PhD candidate in HASTS, has published his first book, “Sordidez,” a science fiction novella on rebuilding, healing, and indigeneity following civil war and climate disaster. Read the Q&A with Steven discussing the books themes, inspirations, and connections to research, people and classes at MIT. 

Rani Ukhengching Marma, graduate student in the MIT Indigenous Language Initiative, is on a mission to save the endangered Marma Language. For her, protecting the indigenous language also means preserving her culture, traditional knowledge and generational wisdom. Read about her work and leadership role in her community, as a steward of her cultural history and language. 

Jean-Luc Pierite is an MLK Visiting Scholar this year, a member of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana and the president of the board of directors of North American Indian Center of Boston. While at MIT, Pierite will build connections between MIT and the local Indigenous communities. His research focuses on enhancing climate resilience planning by infusing Indigenous knowledge and ecological practices into scientific and other disciplines. His faculty host is Janelle Knox-Hayes, the Lister Brothers Professor of Economic Geography and Planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Read more about Pierite and the other MLK visiting scholars in the MIT News feature. 

This past Spring, MIT hosted the first-of-its-kind Indigenous immersive incubator on campus. Over the course of four days, Indigenous delegates collaborated on immersive technology with MIT community members. Led by the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO) of Canada and hosted by the Co-Creation Studio at MIT Open Documentary Lab, the group incubated their own immersive media projects, toured various MIT labs, and met with Indigenous leaders from MIT and across the territory. Read more about the incubator and supported projects that expand access to Indigenous art and culture through innovation. 

Recently, the Jameel World Education Lab awarded funding to multiple projects to develop and test innovative ideas to improve education. One of the funded projects seeks to partner with an Indigenous tribe to teach engineering concepts through model airplanes. The project is titled: “Partnering with an Indigenous tribe to bring a successful STEM program for creating autonomous vehicles to the middle-school level” and awarded to Sertac Karaman, professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

The Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Design, Build, Fly model aircraft curriculum aims to teach essential engineering concepts through model airplanes, catering to underserved and under-resourced students. By adapting the program for younger middle school students lacking certain mathematical skills, Karaman proposes to provide kits and materials for learning aerodynamics, designing, building, and testing, fostering STEM interest from an early age. Read about the other funded projects in the MIT News feature.

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