Indigenous Community Planning

The Indigenous Community Planning project in DUSP is a multi-disciplinary research and teaching effort that seeks to center Indigeneity within the field of urban planning. Students and faculty within the department engage with Indigenous communities, scholars, leaders, and activists to explore together how to address questions of sovereignty, identity, land-use planning, climate adaptation, natural resource development, and historical land-taking. The research, curriculum development, and practice activities are undertaken in partnership with indigenous communities and seek to highlight lessons and practices from indigenous planning that can be applied more generally.

The project has strengthened connections with local Indigenous communities in Massachusetts, the MIT SOLVE Indigenous Fellows program, and Indigenous student groups at MIT as they seek to add indigenous students, staff and faculty to the MIT community.

The 11.171/11.172 Indigenous Environmental Planning MIT course is an ongoing, adaptive effort to realize the pedagogical goals of the Indigenous Planning Project. The course examines how Indigenous peoples’ relationships to their homelands and local environments have been adversely affected by governmental planning. Participants - faculty, student, and community guests - in the course seek to address current environmental challenges and use participatory action research methods  to discover potential solutions to these challenges. 

Image credit: Melissa Teng, Franceska De Oro via TA SUNGON MO'NA: Navigating Change

Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Universities Communiqué

Universities throughout the world are harming Indigenous peoples due to their colonial approach to Indigenous data, according to Kevin Lujan Lee––an Indigenous Chamoru (familian Capili) scholar and activist. Lee is completing his PhD at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and recently collaborated with other Indigenous academics at the 10th International Indigenous Research Conference hosted in Aotearoa.

The conference was attended by over 600 Indigenous researchers throughout the world. One outcome from the conference was a communiqué on Indigenous Data Sovereignty, calling for universities to fundamentally change the way that they collect, analyze, store, own and distribute Indigenous data. This includes: - implementing Indigenous governance over Indigenous data and research involving Indigenous communities - changing ethics processes to recognize and protect collective Indigenous data rights - resourcing and support for Indigenous-controlled data repositories.

Full communiqué

Wampanoag Common Lands: Muddy Pond Restoration Project

The Muddy Pond conservation area is approximately 32 acres in south Kingston, MA. The Muddy Pond restoration site is in the process of transitioning to the ownership of the Native Land Conservancy (NLC). The site borders Route 80 and is surrounded by 322 acres managed by the Northeast Wilderness Trust (NEWT). In the process of this project, much of the information about Muddy Pond has been shared through conversations, stories, and shared moments. For example, Tim Simmons, a conservation ecologist on the Muddy Pond Trust board who has been prominent in the transition to the NLC, explained the significance of Muddy Pond from his view. He told the team how a man who owned a local beer distributorship in the Kingston area had made an awful lot of money selling beer in the New England area. He cared greatly for the environment and wanted to give something back to the community that fostered his business. The donor’s intention was to return the land to its original stewards: the native peoples of the area.

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Tanana Chiefs Conference Hunting , Fishing, and Gathering Task Force in Alaska

From moose hunting to berry gathering to salmon fishing, traditional subsistence life ways are an essential component of Alaska Native identities, history, values, and cultures in the Interior. But this sacred way of life is under threat. Dual state and federal processes that shape subsistence regulations in Alaska systematically fail to ensureAlaskaNative voices, values, and ways of knowing/being are reflected in regulatory decisions that disproportionately impact them. As a result, subsistence regulations enacted at the state and federal level threaten Alaska Native food security, economic stability, cultural integrity, and spiritual well-being.

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Land Use Planning in Waipi'o Valley: Project with KŪ-A-KANAKA in Hawai'i

This project is in collaboration with KŪ-A-KANAKA, a social enterprise owned and operated by the Kahakalau ʻohana, a well-known family of cultural practitioners, educators and grassroots innovators. Our team has developed a land use plan to assist in the production of wetland taro; specifically, the plan highlights strategies for irrigation, invasive species and water quality.

The goal of the project is to assist in overall, long-term sustainability and self-sufficiency for Native Hawaiian families through traditional taro cultivation. In collaboration with Auntie Kū, our research has focused on the two topics identified by her as most problematic: irrigation and invasive species.

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Framing Stories: Developing a MMIWG2S Story Map Library

In alignment with the goals of the Waking Women's Healing Institute, we have collaborated on a connected set of media frameworks which work to uplift the stories and voices of water protectors, survivors of colonial and gender-based violence, and families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2 Spirit people. Over the course of the MIT spring 2022 semester, our team worked to combine personal testimonies, written messages, art, images, videos, sound recording, quotes, and geographic storytelling into story collections about issues surrounding MMIW and the protection of land, water, and people. Interactive maps are used to connect our stories, issues, and solutions to the land as well.

The product is a live online library which is a constantly growing collection of interactive Story Maps to uplift voices and ignite healing. We hope to collect stories of indigenous survivors, MMIW Family members, water protectors, and acts of healing and justice from around the Great Lakes. We also hope the library will be built for collaboration with members of the community who may wish to design and contribute their own story maps.

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Cultural Agrivoltaics: The Economic and Cultural Benefits of Agriculture-based Solar Energy on the Navajo Nation

While extractive energy industries such as coal have played a critical role in driving the Navajo Nation’s economy for decades, closures of coal mines and coal-fired power plants are and will be coming at the cost of local employment, revenue, energy sources, and other services in the region. Navajo Power, a Public Benefits Corporation with a majority Native board, strives to empower communities on the Navajo Nation through development of clean energy projects. In 2021, Navajo Power proposed a commercial solar project on reclaimed mine land owned by the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI) and is currently competing to secure a lease for the land. A unique feature of the proposal is its focus on agrivoltaics, which seeks to combine solar photovoltaics with agriculture and potentially rotational sheep grazing.

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SHUNKA KOLA: A Rez-Dog Project

This project provides a 7-generation framework for Community Dog PopulationManagement in the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation. This framework is composed of three tracks, Mind, Body and Spirit, which form the basis for a One Health healing. It is organized in 7 stages that begin with defined by an event called ‘The Festival of Healing’ where Tribe Members meet to evaluate the framework’s progress and decide the following actions to implement the next initiatives.

The project aims to provide a space in which Tribe Members can have mind, body and spiritual healing, a process that includes improved community animal health, building capacity across multiple generations and encouraging the sharing of animal husbandry experiences, traditions and practices. This project’s success is intrinsically linked to engaging the Tribes knowledge and stewardship of the land and its co-inhabitants, their autonomy and their internal decision-making processes.

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TA SUNGON MO'NA: Navigating Change

Ancestral wisdom tied together through storytelling, rooted in common values, and shared across generations is critical to CHamoru identities in the Mariana Islands. However, these identities are threatened by the rise of fossil fuel emissions, climate change, and land occupation issues from the Marianas' geopolitical circumstances. Public education in the Marianas - not unlike the U.S. - currently lacks a concrete curriculum about climate change and climate action. Implementing indigenous, place-based K-12 climate education centered around land and food sovereignty has the potential to empower youth towards community resilience. 

Much of the current dialogue we see surrounding climate action is heavily catered toward the individual. Based on our conversations with The One Canoe Project, climate action requires collaboration. The One Canoe Project "aims to teach the root causes of the climate crisis and encourage young students to use ancestral wisdom to keep humanity moving forward." In doing so, Pacific wisdom and values of collaboration, stewardship, generosity, and gratitude serve as teaching tools in and of themselves.

Games are a powerful medium to inspire engagement, critical thinking, and community-building. Scenario role-play games combine several types of learning - including cognitive domains that focus on decision-making, social domains that encourage team problem-solving, and affective domains that teach preparation while offering surrogate experiential learning via simulations.

Our game seeks to incorporate these elements by combining education with empowerment. The result is Ta Sungon Mo'na: Navigating Change - a collaborative game, set in the near-future, to help high school students and other young people in the Mariana Islands navigate the climate-related issues facing their communities together. By asking players to share stories and respond to culturally-specific cards, the game challenges students to think critically and collaboratively about community-centered actions to take against climate change, while centering CHamoru culture, histories, and communities.

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Just Transition: Lessons from Mexico

In 2013, Mexico undertook a series of national energy reforms that promoted largescale, privately-funded renewable energy development. The stated goals of the reforms were to fill investment gaps in the public energy sector and to help meet CO2 reduction targets. Human rights and environmental organizations in Mexico, however, have criticize this model of development promoted by the reforms for their apparent contributions to increasing human rights abuses and generating new “socio-economic conflicts.”¹ Using data collected between 2010-2020 at the Business and Human Rights Resources Centre on abuses in renewable energy development across Latin America and a review of policy, regulatory and legal regimes of the reforms, this thesis explores three primary questions: 1) Why are large-scale, private sector projects the preferred model of renewable energy development?; 2) What legal and regulatory structures created by the reforms enable the present violence and conflict?; and 3) What lessons can the global community learn from Mexico’s model and experience? My key finding is that the energy reforms in Mexico, and the model of renewable energy development they promote, need to be reconsidered. A just energy transition model, that moves from fossil fuels to renewables, would not encourage the current patterns of land use and dispossession. Further, the rights of indigenous peoples must be secured through full recognition, legally and in practice, of their customary land rights and community practices regardless of the interests of private investors, companies, and governments in renewable energy.

Tribal economic development bonds : lessons learned and implications for nation-building

Pursuant to the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which the United States signed in 2009, "Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development." Despite the premise of this commitment, Tribal Governments face limitations on the ability to issue tax free debt - limitations that are not applied to State or Local governments. Tribal government leaders say these restrictions unjustly limit their economic sovereignty and prohibit their ability to offer favorable conditions for financing economic development when compared to offerings made by State and Local governments. This research evaluates the Tribal Economic Development Bond Program (TEDB Program), a policy intervention aimed to address the root cause of this issue by temporarily expanding Tribal municipal bonding authority and other forms of tax-free debt service. I used IRS published schedules of TEDB allocations, Bloomberg, EMMA and CBXMarkets to construct a data set that identifies TEDB securities, and to derive lessons learned from the program. I interviewed stakeholders to further illustrate these findings and inform recommendations for reform. Ultimately, I recommend that the TEDB Program be reauthorized or that the IRC [section] 7871 sub sections (b) and (e) be eliminated, thus granting equality to Native Nations on this particular provision for tax free debt issuance.

Planning for resettlement: building partnerships for, by, and with Indigenous peoples

Efforts in the United States to plan or implement relocation in response to climate risks have struggled to improve material conditions for participants, to incorporate local knowledge, and to keep communities intact. Mixed methodologies of community geography provide an opportunity for dialogue and knowledge-sharing to collaboratively diagnose the challenges of climate adaptation led by communities. In this article, we advance a participatory practice model for the co-creation of knowledge initiated during a two-day workshop with members from the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe from Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, Yup’ik people from Newtok Village in Alaska, and researchers from the MIT Resilient Communities Lab. Building on prior scholarship of indigenizing climate change research, this article shares the experience of the workshop to support knowledge exchange and dialogue, with the goal of understanding how to build participatory and non-extractive community-academic partnerships. We reflect on the community values and principles used to guide this workshop to inform more inclusive and co-produced research partnerships, and pedagogies that can improve and assist the self-determination of groups impacted by climate change. Workshop presentations and discussions highlight interconnected themes of resources, systems & structures, regulatory imbalance, and resilience that underpin climate resettlement. We reflect on the narratives presented by members of both Indigenous tribes and NGO partners that illustrate the shortcomings of resettlement planning practices past and present as perpetuating existing inequality. In response to this structured knowledge exchange, we identify potential roles for community-academic partnerships that aim to improve the equity of existing resettlement models. We propose approaches for incorporating traditional knowledge into the pedagogy, discourse, and practice of academic planning programs.

2021 Guåhan Survey

Our results are presented via two main reports. The community report provides results for the target respondents of the survey, who met three primary criteria: (1) identify as “Chamorro” or other related terms; (2) are age 18 or above; and (3) are full-time residents of Guåhan at the time of the survey. The diaspora report provides results for respondents who met the first two criteria, but who are not necessarily full-time residents of Guåhan. It was created to honor the diasporic, global nature of the Chamorro community, and to respect the desire for diasporic Chamorros to be part of this conversation.

Full Report

Toward a decolonial quantitative political science: Indigenous self-identification in the 2019 Native Hawaiian Survey

Indigenous scholars have much to teach political scientists about recognizing and addressing the ways in which power, politics, and colonialism irrevocably shape the data-generating process. In this article, we present a methodological framework for a decolonial quantitative political science, outlining how it was operationalized in the design and execution of the 2019 Native Hawaiian Survey. We demonstrate the utility of this methodological framework through a descriptive analysis of Native Hawaiian respondents' self-identification. Aligned with the theoretical insights of kanaka (Native Hawaiian) scholars, we provide empirical support for the intertwined political relationship between Native Hawaiian identity and national identity––a finding that demands further empirical study among all Indigenous populations. This article offers two main contributions. First, it provides a methodological framework to guide quantitative political science research on Indigenous populations. Second, it adds empirically to the growing literature on Indigenous self-identification.

Land Claims of Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous people have lived in the same locations for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The national governments involved either refuse to recognize the land claims of indigenous people or are only willing to settle claims in ways unacceptable to them. However, unless these claims are resolved in such a way that First Peoples gain control sufficient, at the very least, to maintain their language and culture, they will disappear. In this paper, we explore 14 cases of indigenous land claims, concentrating on the strategies that these First Nations have pursued and the responses they have received from the dominant cultures that surround them. Our goal is to understand the preconditions for effectively resolving the land claims of indigenous peoples around the world.

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Disasters on the Ground

This is Doña Laura Leyva’s story, told in her own words and visualized through my lens. Our partnership arose from a deep interest to understand how disaster response and recovery policies touch the ground for underserved groups, and whether or not they carry out what they originally intend to do. Doña Laura went through a lot in recent years. She was personally affected by both the 2017 Mexican earthquakes and the COVID-19 pandemic, making her journey a remarkable example of that which can and should be imminently improved in policymaking.

Project website

MIT Reconciliation Garden

Written in collaboration with Grinding Stone Collective.

Our group’s goal for this project is to seed an Indigenous-stewarded Agro-Biosphere on MIT’s campus in the form of a Reconciliation Garden. As part of their First Foods program, our partners at Grinding Stone Collective are currently building out a new Stewards initiative that will equip Tribes, Native communities, and Native individuals with funding and technical assistance toward traditional land rematriation, food culture acquisition and continuity, and preservation of Indigenous ecosystems and biodiversity. As a proof-of-concept of this new initiative, the Reconciliation Gardens Project aims to address the harm caused to Indigenous communities by land theft and forced removal by returning unused land to its natural state and creating native edible and medicinal plant gardens stewarded by local Indigenous communities. The Reconciliation Garden at MIT can become a space for cultivating knowledge and skills in growing, harvesting, prepping, and preserving traditional food and medicinal plants by restoring access to Native communities and Indigenous students.


Irrigation Resources Reaching Indigenous Growers and Tribal Entities

Our project team, in collaboration with the Arizona-based non-profit IRRIGaTE (Irrigation Resources Reaching Indigenous Growers and Tribal Entities), headed by Dr. Valerisa Gaddy, aims to address the communication gap that currently exists between Navajo farmers and the Federal government and its associated agencies. This gap can be accounted for by the differences in communication style, with the US government employing a typically top-down style of governmental communication in the form of dense reports filled with legal jargon, which are not easily understood by non-experts and are difficult to locate and read, especially on a smartphone.


Clear Waters at Muddy Pond: A successful case of land back in Kingston

The Native Land Conservancy (NLC) was founded in 2012 in Mashpee, Massachusetts, and is the first Native-run land conservation group east of the Mississippi. NLC is a land trust run by indigenous peoples with the goals of preserving healthy landscapes for all living beings, returning land back to its original state whenever possible, and providing access for Indigenous people to exercise traditional lifeways in safe and protected spaces.

Leslie Jonas, NLC Vice-chairwoman, explained that NLC Founder, Ramona Peters’ decision to found a land conservancy was a way to re-empower indigenous people on their homelands by providing safe, accessible spaces for the practice of their cultural lifeways. The indigenous people of the area have seen the beautiful cape, their homelands, disappear before their eyes; the hope was that an organization like the NLC could be used as a vessel to hold land, enabling its leadership to be a part of the movement to conserve native lands for native people.

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Community Benefits Agreement Guidelines for Renewable Energy Projects on Tribal Lands in the U.S.

This Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) toolkit is intended to supportTribal Nations in maximizing the benefits they receive from the development of renewable energy on Tribal land. It is intended to be used as a tool for self-determination, energy sovereignty, and empowerment throughout the development process. 

This CBA toolkit was specifically developed for Red Lake Nation andIndigenous Energy Initiative, but may be useful for Tribal governments considering the development of renewable projects, and community members in negotiation with developers and settler governments.

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Environmental Policy and Planning 2021 Spring Speaker Series on Indigenous Environmental Planning

Held as digital events during the MIT spring 2021 semester, this series examined themes of power, resilience, environmental justice, just energy transitions, and traditional knowledge in the context of indigenous environmental planning.

Speakers included:

  • Dr. Diane Austin, Director of the School of Anthropology at University of Arizona
  • Dr. Robin Bronen, Executive Director of the Alaska Institute for Justice
  • Eva Dawn Burk (Denaakk’e and Lower Tanana Dene’), MIT Solve Indigenous Communities Fellow
  • Dr. Jaskiran Dhillon, Associate Professor of Global Studies at The New School
  • Kelsey Moldenke (Quinault Nation), Senior Planner for Quinault Nation
  • Joseph Kunkel (Northern Cheyenne Nation), Principal and Director of SNC Design Lab
  • Julian Brave NoiseCat (Secwepemc/St'at'imc), Vice President of Policy & Strategy at Data for Progress and Narrative Change Director of The Natural History Museum
  • Adella Begaye & Robyn Jackson (Diné), President and Energy Outreach Coordinator of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment
  • Dr. Kā‘eo Duarte (Native Hawaiian), Vice President of the Kamehameha Schools Community and 'Āina Resiliency Group
  • Chuckie Green (Mashpee Wampanoag), Former Natural Resources Director for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

Watch the full speaker series

Land Grab Universities

Land-grant universities, including MIT, were built not just on Indigenous land, but with Indigenous land - nearly 11 million acres of Indigenous land from approximately 250 tribes, bands and communities. Tristan Ahtone and Geoff McGhee will speak to us about "Land Grab Universities", an investigative journalism project and spatial database that untangles the powerful and painful strains of myth and money behind the land-grant university system, which broadened access to higher education in the United States. This unique project was created through extensive reporting and research into primary source materials, including land patent records, congressional documents, historical bulletins, historical maps, archival and print resources at the National Archives, state repositories and special collections at universities and more. Information for the database was extracted programmatically where possible, primarily from the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office database, but in some cases it was transcribed manually from print records, microfilm and microfiche reproductions, or poor-quality digital images.

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Monuments: Declaring a Cultural Emergency

Genia is an artist in residence with the City of Boston, and has been working with the Department of Emergency Management on adapting their methods to deal with the cultural emergencies of climate change, settler colonialism, systemic racism, white supremacy, patriarchy and toxic individualism. This spring, Genia is also in residence with the 11.458 Crowd Sourced City class at MIT where students are helping design civic tech and media platforms to support her work to decolonize Boston’s public art, monuments and heritage landscape.

This event was organized by DUSP's Catherine D'Ignazio and Maria Lucia Morelli and was supported by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST).

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