To collaboratively create a programme that invites engagement and contribution by indigenous communities with new technologies and the systems associated with the Fab Lab movement.


In 1924 (less than a century ago), the last Apache Raid occurred which was the end of the American Indian Wars. Also in that year, the Snyder Act or Indian Citizenship Act extended United States citizenship to up to 300,000 indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples were permitted to have dual-citizenship status with the United States and membership in their own tribal communities. This dual status lead to indigenous peoples’ further reconciliation of personal versus communal property. Today, indigenous peoples of North America are divided by national borders that have developed over the last 200 years. Still, the approximately 5 million American Indians within the United States share commonalities with First Nations of Canada and indigenous peoples of Mexico. We are constantly rebuilding nations that through the process of colonization, cultural suppression, and assimilation have lost much traditional knowledge. In the United States, it wasn’t until the 1970’s and the activism of groups like the American Indian Movement that we indigenous peoples experienced a cultural resurgence. This further motivated initiatives for federal recognition and repatriation of our traditional knowledge and material culture. At the same time, the world experienced several revolutions in personal computation, communication, and digital fabrication. Indigenous communities (tribes or nations) adapted to the times and developed ways to survive not only in a Indigenous or Western context, but also in the Digital. While we understand the benefits of digitization and curation of our traditional knowledge, the transfer of bits across an open data ecosystem fosters questions and skepticism from indigenous peoples. The proposed InDigiFab initiative is about not only empowering indigenous communities from an outsider’s perspective; rather, it is about giving indigenous peoples effective tools for entrepreneurship and self-government that inform the management of the diffusion of indigenous cultural knowledge.


We need to reconsider the Fab Lab as a specific tool for social transformation, a stimulus for local entrepreneurship and economic development, and a vehicle for decolonization for indigenous peoples. We should provide opportunities for indigenous peoples to digitize and curate existing traditional knowledge and material culture, to revitalize and develop indigenous science and technology, and to provide a cultural match for the management of diffusion of traditional knowledge and developments in indigenous science and technology.


Indigenous peoples are custodians of some of the most biologically diverse territories in the world. Our languages and cultural diversity combined with traditional knowledge are an invaluable resource that benefits all of mankind. Despite these resources, colonization and occupation of our land and our peoples result in: discrimination, marginalization, extreme poverty, and conflict. For many indigenous nations, our languages and cultures are endangered, dormant, or extinct. Everyday, we rise to the challenge to keep our languages, cultures, and traditional ways alive and practical for present and future generations. We constantly reconcile Western knowledge with Indigenous knowledge. Recent digital revolutions in computation, communication, and fabrication, present new challenges to how we maintain and protect our distinct ways.

Fab Lab programming emerged from MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms as a way to stimulate local entrepreneurship. Initiated by Prof. Neil Gershenfeld, the first Fab Labs broke ground for an International Fab Lab Network with labs in: Boston's South End, India, Ghana, and Norway. The current Fab Lab is part of a network of close to 1000 labs in 75 different countries. Despite the diversity of sites, the similarities in core capabilities and the open sharing of knowledge are valued as a greater benefit.

In 2013, the first Fab Lab on tribal land in North America was installed in Anchorage, Alaska between the Center for Bits and Atoms and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC). The uniqueness of the lab among others in the United States is that it combines cutting edge educational tools with traditional Alaska Native cultural values and strengths around the development and adaptation of specialized technologies. Students from various local Alaska Native villages come to the Fab Lab as aspiring engineers, designers, artists, and innovators.

Currently in the United States, there are 567 federally recognized tribes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Census, the estimated population of American Indians and Alaska Natives was 4.5 million or 1.5% of the total population, as of July 1, 2007. Federally recognized tribes participate in a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States which is established after a lengthy acknowledgment process. Additionally, many American Indians are members of State recognized tribes dependent upon criteria established by each state.

The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development was founded in 1987 by Professors Stephen Cornell and Joseph P. Kalt at Harvard University. The Harvard Project's activities include research, education, and the administration of a tribal governance awards program. As an outgrowth of the research programs of The Harvard Project, the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy was founded in 2001 by The University of Arizona and the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation. NNI is a self-determination, self-governance, and development resource for Native nations.

In 2011 the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, The Fab Foundation, and the Barcelona City Council launched the Fab City project. This kicked off a 40 year countdown for cities and communities to become at least 50% self-sufficient. In 2015, seven more cities signed on to the Fab City pledge. So far in 2016, Amsterdam joined the pledge. The Fab City initiative is open for other cities, towns, and communities to build a more humane and habitable world.

The proposed InDigiFab initiative is open to indigenous communities that wish to use Fab Lab programming as a vehicle for social transformation, economic development, preservation of local flora and fauna, and revitalization and maintenance of traditional language and culture. Per Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we have a right to maintain, control, protect and develop our cultural heritage including manifestations of our own sciences and technologies. Through The Fab Foundation and partnerships with institutions like Center for Bits and Atoms, the Fab City project, The Harvard Project, and NNI, the InDigiFab initiative seeks to incorporate the voice of more indigenous peoples in the broader global discussion on challenges facing mankind.


The InDigiFab initiative takes Fab Lab programming and introduces it on to tribal lands as a vehicle for social transformation and economic development. The unique issue for indigenous communities is how to protect indigenous cultural property within an open data ecosystem. Western intellectual property laws are not necessarily a precise fit considering indigenous concepts of community property protected in perpetuity. How do we provide recourse (to protect indigenous cultural property) for those who live and create within a Western legal system but are not necessarily proponents or adopters of its commercial values?

The InDigiFab initiative will work with tribal governments to develop policy that is a cultural match for each specific local concept of intellectual property. In collaboration with outer communities and institutions, strategies can potentially be developed to manage and protect the diffusion of indigenous cultural property (...)

As a tool of decolonization and liberation, introduction of a Fab Lab and interaction with the global Fab Lab network empowers indigenous peoples and contributes to their overall value of self-worth and dignity. As with the CITC Fab Lab, indigenous peoples can teach the core capabilities first from the indigenous epistemology. Then, students and Fab Lab participants can take on core capabilities as taught in educational programs such as Fab Academy. What this could potentially accomplish is provide indigenous peoples with an enhanced value of self-worth while contributing to the ability to cross borders between indigenous and Western knowledge.

To become a Fab City requires having a more precise knowledge of the way that cities work. Indigenous communities are welcome to sign the Fab City pledge. The InDigiFab initiative approach walks back concepts introduced in Fab Academy from intellectual property and provides guidance into not only how students can enhance their education through technology. Rather, how can tribal governments foster an atmosphere of entrepreneurship and openness with a global ecosystem while at the same time protecting knowledge that is better left confidential or proprietary.

Participants in the InDigiFab initiative have an opportunities to: digitize and curate traditional knowledge and material culture, revitalize and develop indigenous science and technology, and broaden the discussion on the emerging economic paradigm guided by the Fab Lab movement.








Jean-Luc Pierite

The Fab Foundation

50 Milk St., FL 16

Boston, MA 02109



"About Us." About the Harvard Project. The Harvard Project, n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.

"About Us." Native Nations Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.

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Bell, Catherine, and Caeleigh Shier. "Control of Information Originating from Aboriginal Communities: Legal and Ethical Contexts."Études/Inuit/Studies 35.1-2 (2011): 35. Web.

Diez, Tomas. Fab City Whitepaper Locally Productive, Globally Connected Self-sufficient Cities (n.d.): n. pag. Fab City. Fab City. Web.

Greer, Olivia J. "Using Intellectual Property Laws to Protect Indigenous Cultural Property." Bright Ideas 22.3 (2014): 27-33. Print.

UN General Assembly, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples : resolution / adopted by the General Assembly, 2 October 2007, A/RES/61/295, available at: [accessed 18 May 2016]

Veintie, Tuija. "Practical Learning and Epistemological Border Crossings: Drawing on Indigenous Knowledge in Terms of Educational Practices."Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education 7.4 (2013): 243-58. Web.

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