Learning to Take No for an Answer: Co-Designing Digital Experiences With Indigenous Youth in the Southwestern United States

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting


American Educational Research Association


Toronto, Canada

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Many Indigenous communities engaged in digital spaces are concerned with issues of sovereignty and intellectual property rights in relation to information that might be accessed online (Belarde-Lewis, 2013; Duarte, 2017). These concerns are further multiplied when Indigenous youth, who may not be fully aware of appropriate protocols for sharing information or maintaining its confidentiality, become producers in digital spaces. Yet, we know that youth becoming producers and not just consumers of digital technologies is an important aspect of access to and identification with STEM disciplines (Bell, Van Horne, & Cheng, 2017; Scott, Sheridan, & Clark, 2015), as well as a way to engage youth in aspects of culture they often perceive as “going dead” (Int., 6/15/17). In designing with Indigenous communities, how do we balance a desire for Indigenous youth to become critical producers of technology with community desires for privacy and protection of information, particularly around cultural heritage?

In this paper, we explore what it means when an Indigenous community says “no” to researchers as part of the co-design process of developing culturally responsive computational making activities (Rode et al., 2015). Drawing on methodological approaches to design research with communities (Bang, Faber, Gurneau, Marin, & Soto, 2016; Brayboy, Gough, Leonard, Roehl, & Solyom, 2012; DiSalvo, Yip, Bonsignore, & DiSalvo, 2017; Smith, 2012), we frame our work in terms of the history of research in Indigenous communities that has led to such “no” moments. We then present data from a larger, five-year ethnographic engagement with a relatively small (10,000 enrolled members) Indigenous community in the Southwestern United States. Drawing on field notes, photographs, collection of relevant documents, interview transcripts, and youth-produced digital artifacts, we present two case studies of moments in the co-design process where community stakeholders, especially the community’s cultural relations department, told us no. In the first case, members of the research team proposed a superhero themed unit, which community stakeholders rejected because of a perceived clash of values between individual superheroes and the more communal-orientation of the community. In the second case, members of the research team proposed that youth would create virtual community tours of significant local sites, including the site of the first school in the community. However, stakeholders expressed concerns about youths’ respect for heritage and material culture. This led us away from working with the cultural resources department and towards working with the community relations department around engaging youth in documenting and sharing valuable aspects of their community with outsiders. Findings emphasize the importance of co-designing with community stakeholders and emphasize the value of taking a broader perspective on culture that moves beyond material and heritage culture to include expressions of contemporary Indigenous identities, such as tribally-owned business enterprises. Rather than viewing “no” as the end of the conversation, this paper makes a contribution to community-based co-design work by both recognizing the historical relationship between researchers and Indigenous peoples and demonstrating how “no” can be a productive locus for extending conversations into new directions.

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