November is Native American Heritage Month – a time to celebrate Indigenous peoples and learn about our communities and cultures. My hope for this month is to raise awareness about the challenges our communities face, both in the past and the present, and how we can move forward with respect and deference to Indigenous communities on Turtle Island (North America). There is a lot to be done to fix these systemic problems that have arisen from our oppression and I believe that community-built solutions hold the answers. I am an Indigenous (Ojibwe – Citizen of the Sault Ste Marie Tribe) youth robotics inventor and advocate, and I address the challenges that I see by focusing on the intersection of culture and technology with robotics education.
I started teaching at age ten because my family could not afford to develop my sister’s interest in technology. That launched my over-a-decade-long journey in making education accessible and representative so that no child is left behind. Educational inaccessibility is a systemic problem and can be due to many factors including high cost, lack of culturally competent resources, and even poor Internet access. I now create equitable and innovative learning solutions for Indigenous youths that help overcome these gaps with robots I design and give away for free. Robots are all-encompassing educational tools that can solve community problems but also help kids learn in a way that they love.
When I was eighteen, I created The STEAM Connection, a minority and youth-led charity that has reached 600k+ children with technical education. We utilize traditional knowledge to uplift and protect Indigenous communities with an emphasis on language revitalization, a very pressing issue, through my language learning robots SkoBots. My goal is to keep Indigenous youths safe and healthy and to equip them with the skills needed to solve the problems that they see around them.My students remind me of younger me, both our struggles and our determination. I have grown up my whole life with depression and complex post-traumatic stress disorder that were worsened by unsafe learning environments, spaces where I was not represented, and systemic injustices. I built my classroom to be the safe learning space that I never had. I know firsthand how important protecting my students and their mental health is. One of the most important ways to do this is to keep Indigenous communities together – something that has been historically against us.
Our family life is once again at a high risk of being torn apart- the Supreme Court of the United States is considering the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in Brackeen v. Haaland. There is a real threat it will get overturned. The act was created to protect Indigenous children from the continued forced removal from our communities and cultures.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, ICWA was passed by Congress in 1978 to address the nationwide epidemic of Indigenous children being forcibly removed from our homes and placed into non-Native homes at disproportionate rates. Throughout history, the government has sought to threaten the existence of tribes via the forced separation and assimilation of Native children. ICWA requires state courts to make active efforts to keep Native families together. Overturning ICWA would do immeasurable harm to our communities, which is why all of us speaking up and taking action now matters. Some people are helping by signing petitions, speaking to their local and state representatives, sharing resources online, and listening to Indigenous communities on how to help keep Indigenous families together. I know that by working together, Indigenous activists and our allies can create a future where Indigenous youth and families are uplifted and supported rather than torn apart.