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MIT staff blogger Chris Peterson SM '13

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day with AISES + NASA by Chris Peterson SM '13

The second Monday in October has long been an MIT holiday, but today is the second year that MIT has observed it as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and the first that it has been federally recognized as such.

Earlier today, Institute Community and Equity Officer John Dozier sent an email to the MIT community regarding the day:

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is our opportunity to “acknowledge Indigenous Peoples as the traditional stewards of the land, and the enduring relationship that exists between them and their traditional territories.”

October 11, 2021 marks the second year that the MIT community will pause to commemorate and recognize Indigenous People’s Day. As we do so, let us reflect on the richness and resilience of these communities across our country; on the significance of the innovations, technologies, and cultural contributions made by Native Americans; on the unfulfilled or shattered promises our nation has made to Indigenous communities across the United States; and on the work that we as an Institute community must do to forge a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future—one that supports Native Americans in our community now while we work to enhance their presence in our community in the future.

To the members of our Indigenous community, we honor you, your presence, and your histories. And, we commit to using the challenge of our past to inform a better, brighter future with you.

The MIT community, and members of the public, are also invited to a celebration of the day hosted by the MIT American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and the MIT Native American Student Association (NASA).

The public program includes:

7:00am-7:45am: Sunrise Ceremony (Zoom) – MIT Alums Roger Paul & Newell Lewey, & Current Student John Dennis

  • A traditional early morning ceremony to kick off our day! Featuring a Land Acknowledgement and blessings from Roger Paul (SM ’20) and Newell Lewey (SM ’19), and Hand Drumming from John Dennis (SM ‘23).

3:30pm-4:00pm: Every Kid Gets a Robot (Zoom) – Danielle Boyer w/ Dr. Joshuaa Allison-Burbank

  • Alternative Title: Engaging Native Youth with STEM Through Low-Cost Robotic Kits
  • Danielle Boyer (Ojibwe) is a youth robotics inventor, activist, and advocate for youth who has been teaching kids since she was ten. Danielle creates innovative learning solutions utilizing robots that she invents and gives to kids for free to make technical education accessible. Armed with a desire to make the technical space an equitable one, she created The STEAM Connection, a nonprofit that has helped her reach hundreds of thousands of children worldwide. She is an MIT Solve Indigenous Communities Fellow, AISES Sequoyah Fellow, L’Oreal Paris Woman of Worth, and is one of PEOPLE’s Girls Changing the World based in Troy, MI.
  • Dr. Joshuaa Allison-Burbank (Diné / Pueblo) is a father of two from Tohatchi, NM on the Navajo Nation. He is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Developmental Scientist at Johns Hopkins University. He is the founder of Little Moccasins Education Services and a leading mentor of The STEAM Connection where he is helping develop SkoBots, language learning robots for Indigenous youths. His work focuses on culturally responsive teaching practices, parent coaching, and kindergarten readiness. Dr. Allison-Burbank recently co-authored a chapter called American Indian Fathers and their Sacred Children in the recently published book titled ‘Handbook of Fathers and Child Development’ and also contributed to “Our Smallest Warriors, Our Strongest Medicine: Overcoming COVID-19”.

4:00pm-4:30pm: Revitalizing Indigenous Languages (Zoom) – Annauk Olin

  • Annauk Denise Olin is a recent graduate of the MIT Indigenous Language Initiative program where she received an M.S. in Linguistics (‘21). She is the former research director of the climate policy and research program at the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ). Here, Annauk worked with 15 Alaska Native communities to create a relocation governance framework based in human rights and Tribal self-governance. Her role at AIJ involved integrating Indigenous knowledge and Western science to inform Tribal, State, Federal, and international entities on climate adaptation decisions. She is a Tribal member of the Native Village of Shishmaref in Alaska. Annauk is raising her 2-year-old son to be bilingual in Iñupiaq and English.

5:00pm-6:00pm: Indigenous Futures of MIT (Zoom) – Dr. David Shane Lowry, Nina Lytton, Kristy Carpenter

  • A discussion about MIT’s history with Indigenous peoples, the findings from the inaugural Indigenous History of MIT course, and how Indigenous community members of MIT can best be supported going forward.
  • David Shane Lowry is the Distinguished Fellow in Native American Studies. In this role, David is leading a new conversation at MIT about the responsibilities of MIT (and science/technology education, more generally) in the theft of American Indian land and the dismantling of American Indian health and community. Since 2013, David has lectured across the United States – roles in which he has become well versed in conversations at the intersection of race, (health) science & popular culture. His first book, titled Lumbee Pipelines (under contract with University of Nebraska Press), explores American Indian utilization of colonial conditions to create opportunities that are both uplifting and oppressive. His second book, titled Black Jesus, is an ethnography of Michael Jordan. It began when David realized that he and Jordan shared the same anthropology advisor at UNC … 23 years apart. David was an undergraduate at MIT (Class of 2007).
  • Nina Lytton is coordinator of MIT’s Addir Fellows Interfaith Dialogue Program. She is a Humanist Chaplain and Celebrant, and a Candidate for Unitarian Universalist Ministry. Most recently Nina served as an Interfaith Chaplain in Clinical Pastoral Education at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Nina comes to ministry after a career in high tech and an informative detour in microbrewing. Nina is of European and Native American ancestry. By affiliation, she is a Maunakea protector and supporter of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. She has an economics degree from Princeton, a business degree from the MIT Sloan School, and an M.Div from Meadville Lombard Theological School.
  • Kristy Carpenter (Alutiiq) is a PhD student in Biomedical Informatics at Stanford. She graduated from MIT in 2020 with a BS in Computer Science & Molecular Biology. Her research is in the use of computational methods for the acceleration of therapeutic discovery and development at the molecular level. She is also passionate about supporting and giving back to her community; she founded the Native American Student Alliance at her high school (Lakeside School in Seattle, WA), was an active member of MIT AISES throughout undergrad, is a program leader for Stanford’s ADVANCE Undergraduate Institute, and serves on her program’s Student DEI Committee. Kristy is a member of the Native Village of Afognak and Tangirnaq Native Village, and is a learner of the Alutiiq language.

Interested readers might also be interested in Walker and the “Indian Question”, which recently appeared in the Technology Review as authored by Simson Garfinkel ’87, PhD ’05, along with President Reif’s commentary on the article.

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day to you and yours!