Yá’át’ééh, Shí éí Brian Skeet yinishyé. I am of the Rock Gap Clan and born for the Towering House People. I am Diné (Navajo), and was born in Tuba City, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation and raised in Grand Canyon Village.
For millions of years, the Colorado River carved through the rock layers of the earth, resulting in what we know today as the Grand Canyon National Park, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. On the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park there is a small town with a population of no more than 3,000 residents (not including tourists), known as the Grand Canyon Village. I went to school at the Grand Canyon Unified School District and graduated in 2004 with a class of 15 students. At the time, my knowledge of the Grand Canyon’s history extended no further than the mysterious disappearance of the Anasazi, the noble discovery of the region by the Spaniards and the adventure into the unknown by John Wesley Powell. However, I later learned an important truth and legacy that laid within the rim of the Grand Canyon. The real truth is that the Havasupai have been living within the Grand Canyon for over 800 years and are still living there. For the sake of tourism, the Federal Government removed the Havasupai from the inner gorge and relocated to a remote area west of the park boundary known as Supai Village. This is colonization.
Growing up at the Grand Canyon was bitter sweet. After graduation, my path was full of trials and tribulations which led me to design. Eventually, in my late 20’s, I ended up at The Design School at Arizona State University for industrial design. I remember one experience when a non-Indigenous student asked me if I was, “Indian and if there were more of your kind out there? What kind of Indian are you? I thought you were all gone.” I knew what he said was ignorant, but I just could not articulate why. I was so taken aback by this that I asked myself, “are they not teaching students about Indigenous Peoples and history?” As one of the only Indigenous design students at The Design School, with no one that could relate, I felt isolated. I felt alone, invisible and under-represented. Then I realized that my identity and our history is being erased. This is colonization.
The last half of my time at ASU, I found a graphic design job, creating a magazine that empowered Indigenous students and alumni to share their personal stories through a printed journal format. Reading the stories of Indigenous students was emotional to me because it was relatable; the isolation, the invisibility and the misrepresentation. Through the Turning Points Magazine: A Guide to Native Student Success, I came across information that gave the location of places on the ASU Tempe Campus that were full of resources and services geared for Indigenous students, an Indigenized study space. This gave me insight into how Indigenized space can make an Indigenous student feel seen. I then found design courses led by a female Indigenous architect, Wanda Dalla Costa, who championed the work of Indigenous Placekeeping at ASU. Her coursework introduced some amazing Indigenous scholars and she encouraged Indigenous leaders from this area to share their Indigenous Knowledge with the students at The Design School. Wanda Indigenized the coursework which helped me understand my worldview as an Indigenous Designer and to be proud of my Indigeneity.
According to the recent Spring 2021 Innovation Issue, Decolonizing Industrial Design, “Industrial Design operates within a capitalistic system. Industrial Designers create things to be made, purchased, and used by consumers. In the end, this exchange most frequently benefits the corporations and other entities who hold power…” In addition to a capitalist system, the industrial design industry and education system is rooted in colonization. Decolonization of industrial design must be the first step in order to make space for Indigenization in industrial design. Indigenizing industrial design allows space for Indigenous Designers to create products and solutions that are rooted in Indigenous Knowledge, for and with their communities. Indigenizing industrial design can help develop generational solutions to help reduce and manage the current environmental damage caused by the current Western approach to industrial design consumption of resources, manufacturing processes and end of the life-cycle processes for products. That act of industrial design is a natural skill that is innate in Indigenous creatives and designers and passing this knowledge on to future generations is grounded in who we are.