The integration of traditional artwork with new digital media and technology is being explored more frequently than ever. Dr. Duke Redbird, Elder for the 2020 Inaugural Indigenous Digital Delegation stated in his Keynote address entitled “A Dish With One Spoon” at the MIT Co-Creation Studio:

“In the past, Indigenous people were programmed by our symbolic symbiotic relationship with the earth. Today, a lot of what the average person will do will be designed, set-up, contextualized and motivated by algorithms, rather than by nature.”  

The question that must be asked, as posed by Dr. Redbird, is whether the use of technology in this way is wise.

“In aboriginal philosophy, existence consists of energy,” explains Dr. Leroy Little Bear, Professor Emeritus at the University of Lethbridge. “The Indigenous people concluded that the world is composed of an intelligent energy that pervades everything — it gives it mobility and imparts a specific knowledge to each species and entity. We also saw the presence of a personalization of the universe.”

According to Dr. Redbird, there are certain things that modern technology will never be able to do. Indigenous communities, before the arrival of the settlers, were motivated by creativity, imagination, innovation and invention that fostered self-preservation and arts. Competition, materialism, power and money were not present, and there was no Indigenous language for such concepts. He notes that since the Industrial Revolution of 1760, Western civilization has tried to harness nature to suit the whims of human beings, which has not turned out well.

Dr. Redbird sees a future for technology that is aligned with natural processes. “The Indigenous peoples realized Mother Nature is an information platform, and organized their communities using the same templates that were gifted by Mother Earth in the beginning, namely biochemistry and biocircuitry as nature created them.”  He sees an opportunity for information sharing that is “open-sourced and in partnership with nature” and for technology to be used to connect people in empathy.

We are in a space in time where there is great opportunity for Indigenous communities to share their long tradition, knowledge and wisdom of living in communion with nature that will not only bring sensibility and sustainability, but will also greatly impact our technology and artistic work moving forward into the future.

Suzanne Kite is a Oglála Lakñóta artist and the first Indigenous artist to use machine learning, a technique of using algorithms to process large data sets or statistical models in artwork. She is also the first Indigenous artist to present ontological arguments in Artificial Intelligence (AI). The Oglála Lakñóta Nation is one of the seven bands of the Titowan (Lakota) division of the Great Sioux Nation. Kite was raised in Southern California, received a BFA from CalArts and an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School, and is currently completing her PhD at Concordia University in Montreal.

Hél čhanŋkú kiŋ ȟpáye (There lies the road) by Suzanne Kite. Image courtesy of the artist.

Hél čhanŋkú kiŋ ȟpáye (There lies the road) is a site specific installation and performance by Kite and was produced at the invitation of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics in New York City. The exhibition took place in December 2021 as part of the 2020-2022 theme As for Protocols, exploring how technology and Internet protocols shape current conditions. The project was also the culmination of a year-long art research project, Wówasukiye waŋží ahóuŋpȟapi kte (There is a rule that we must observe) that Kite worked on with a team of collaborators.

Kite describes the project as a body interface developed by Kite and her collaborators that incorporates “movement, performance, carbon fiber and stone sculptures, and graphics into an immersive audio-visual environment,” prompting viewers to reconsider their connections to technology and artificial intelligence. The aim of the installation is to create a connection between the gallery viewers and the computer as a non-human entity. Kite’s installation and performance works highlight ways to reimagine and design more ethical protocols, with both our relationships to technology, AI, and our connections with one another.

Hél čhanŋkú kiŋ ȟpáye (There lies the road) by Suzanne Kite. Image courtesy of the artist.

In Hél čhanŋkú kiŋ ȟpáye (There lies the road), Kite based her protocols on Lakȟóta ontologies, which view natural materials such as metals, stones, rocks as capable of both volition and kinship with humans. Therefore, relationships exist in both physical and non-physical realms because inanimate natural objects are alive with spirit.

In this way, Kite formed methodologies for approaching human and nonhuman relations in a Good Way, or an ethical way, treating both with no harm and with collaboration and respect. Kite’s work is an example of the United Nations Sustainable ​​Development Goal for Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure as she fosters the idea of employing sustainable natural materials and remastering them in an Ingenious manner.

Hél čhanŋkú kiŋ ȟpáye (There lies the road) by Suzanne Kite. Image courtesy of the artist.

Suzanne Kite's installation had support from a number of foundations and organizers, including  The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation — an organization that helps to inspire healing within Native peoples and explores their vital contributions to the community and the world. You can donate using the link attached above.

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