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Co-designing an Indigenous Making Learning Ecology Centered in Wellbeing


As maker education gained widespread traction, scholars reacted to a lack of criticality and a lack of attention to issues of equity and diversity in some mainstream implementations and approaches (Barajas-López & Bang, 2018a; Buechley, 2013; Vossoughi, Hooper, & Escudé, 2016). Inspired by this scholarship, recent decades have seen the growth of work on culturally-based STEM education in Indigenous communities, which sheds light on the richness and complexity of Indigenous cosmovisions, worldviews, and systems of knowledge (Bang & Marin, 2015; Bang & Medin, 2010; Bang, Medin, Washinawatok, & Chapman, 2010; Cajete, 2000; Eglash, 2007; Elk, 2016; Medin & Bang, 2014b).

Building on this work, this dissertation presents a case study of a three-year-long co-design project of a makerspace between the northern Californian Pinoleville Pomo Nation (PPN) and a team from the University of California, Berkeley (UCB). In particular, this dissertation works to:

a. address a gap in the literature regarding the specifics of co-designing an Indigenous making learning ecology centered in wellbeing, andb. contribute to the co-design literature by exploring how non-dominant worldviews can be filtered by dominant perspectives.

After situating the dissertation in the literature, in history, and in the relevant frameworks (Chapter 1) and addressing my own positionality in relation to the dissertation (Chapter 2), I move to address (a) and (b) over a series of four analytical chapters. In the first of these, Chapter 3, I describe the co-design process and its development over time, discussing the makerspace project in two complementary ways: quantitatively, through an analysis of the nature and composition (in terms of Native vs. non-Native representation) of exchanges between the PPN and the UCB teams; and qualitatively, through summaries that emphasize co-design events with community participation, and discuss the project’s changing goals, priorities, and practices.

In the second empirical chapter, Chapter 4, I subject the co-design events identified in Chapter 3 to further self-reflective examination. In particular, I show how Native worldviews might get unintentionally filtered out by novice non-Indigenous designers. Building from a high-resolution timeline developed in Chapter 3, I identify dissonant, critical incidents (Miles & Huberman, 1994a) and examine shifts in my conceptualization of the makerspace project, showing how these might have been linked to the filtering of community worldviews.

The third empirical chapter, Chapter 5, responds to the shifts identified in Chapter 4 by seeking to better understand the community’s perspectives around wellbeing, STE(A)M fields, and their intersections. The findings in this chapter are based on 21 semi-structured interviews with community members that were transcribed and then cleaned, coded, and analyzed in MaxQDA using a dual-pass coding technique (Saldaña, 2021) structured as follows: first, transcripts were coded along the major themes derived from the interview guide; second, coded segments from the first pass were analyzed for patterns across participants.

The last of the empirical chapters, Chapter 6, exemplifies and synthesizes the previous findings through a telling case (Mitchell, 1984) of one culture keeper’s description of her basketmaking practice. Here, I present an analytical exercise about the culture keeper’s basket making practice intended to serve as a microcosm for the themes, shifts, and worldviews elaborated in the previous empirical chapters. In this chapter I seek to illustrate how different lenses, as partial proxies for particular worldviews, can “filter the intelligibility of the practices of historically non-dominant communities through normative onto-epistemologies” (Bang & Vossoughi, 2016, p. 181).

Bringing these six chapters together, the dissertation’s key findings can be broken into the following themes:

• Community participation and representation in co-design. This dissertation underscores the importance of differentiating between general community participation and representative regular participation. The former is focused on the core design team interacting with the broader community whenever possible. The latter has to do with key community members being an integral part of the design/research team and therefore engaging in everyday kinds of design meetings. Both types of participation are at the core of promoting transformative agency not only as an outcome of the project that is being designed but also as a result of participating in the design process. However, community participation alone may not be sufficient to ensure that Indigenous worldviews are consistently represented in the design process, especially when novice non-Indigenous designers have a predominant role in guiding that process. The development of design sensitivities and commitments that are key to acknowledging and genuinely engaging with unfamiliar worldviews can be promoted through targeted education and reflection on the part of non-Native researchers — work that can avoid placing additional burden on the time and energy of Indigenous community members.

• Community perspectives on wellbeing and STE(A)M. According to community members, wellbeing is not only about balance, spirituality, and wholeness, but also about fostering cultural connections and identity, as well as about healing from historical trauma. Community members’ perceptions of STE(A)M were multifaceted. I conclude that, by both entangling and juxtaposing the topics of Indigenous wellbeing and STE(A)M, we can at once honor connections to valuable ancestral wisdom and practices, and acknowledge the ways in which these two worlds are distinct and irreducible.

• Community perspectives on Making. The exercise undertaken in Chapter 6 emphasizes the relational nature of Indigenous Making practices, which elevate relations with people, the land and environment, the cosmos, and ideas; secondly, in a broader sense, it speaks to the concerns that prompted this dissertation, namely the potential role of a non-Indigenous novice researcher in either filtering out or facilitating participants’ perspectives.

Pulling these themes together allows us to return to a key question on which this dissertation sheds light: What are the best practices when non-Indigenous novice designers work with Indigenous communities to co-design a transformative learning space? This dissertation suggests several avenues, including but not limited to self-reflection and learning; providing appropriate infrastructures for interactions between researchers and community members; paying attention to issues around the division of labor and connection to culture keepers; monitoring the amount and nature of the interactions between participants; and openness to non-dominant worldviews. Another important consideration is that the solutions need to be local: We need new and imaginative ecologies and possibilities for both researchers and Native communities around culture, wellbeing, and STE(A)M. These imaginative possibilities should go beyond the canonical formulations of makerspaces or mere integration of new materials and processes. In approaching co-design processes, we should seek to fulfill the multifaceted, nuanced, and varied desires and needs of Native communities – communities which often find themselves trying to maintain a complex equilibrium between survival and resurgence that hinges on, among other things, healing from historical trauma, cultural preservation, and diverse generational needs.

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