By: Brian Skeet
Tribal affiliation: Diné
BSD Industrial Design, BSA Design Management
As an undergraduate, I found my voice as a Diné designer pursuing my studies at Arizona State’s Design School. I took classes by Institute Professor Wanda Dalla Costa (Saddle Lake Cree Nation) that aimed to acknowledge Indigenous design, worldview and empowering placekeeping. I worked with Amanda Tachine (Diné), assistant professor, and Bryan Brayboy (Lumbee), senior advisor to President Michael Crow, to develop the first-ever magazine written and designed by, for Native students at ASU. With the mentorship from ASU’s Indigenous faculty and administration, I’ve found that amplifying my voice may inspire future Indigenous students to achieve their academic goals. My mentors helped me ground my identity and belonging in this land through design and to foster my own worldview of design based on my traditional values and culture. I never anticipated that this worldview would carry over to an all-Indigenous design group of creatives who would collectively be working with frontline providers in the COVID-19 pandemic.
After graduating in 2019, I was reminded that I was re-entering a workforce that didn’t see Indigenous Design worldview as an acceptable approach. Starting my career as an industrial designer, I often found myself biting my tongue. I needed to create a space where I could work with other like-minded Indigenous Designers. I didn’t realize that this vision of placemaking was a commonality among fellow Indigenous creatives. This was when I reconnected with mentors in the profession: Eunique Yazzie (Diné), owner of Eunique Design, and Shon Quannie (Acoma Pueblo, Hopi, Mexican), owner of 4x Studio and my former instructor at the Design School. A few meetings later, our visions aligned for the start of the Indigenous Design Collab (IDC).
IDC has made waves for creating space in Downtown Phoenix for Indigenous artisans. Credited for bringing Indigenous creatives together on a panel for the Annual AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Phoenix Design Week conference, IDC also created the Rise Poster Show at Evolve Gallery and partnered with Roosevelt Row Arts District and Still She Lives LLC to organize the Indigenous Artisan Fest.
As IDC began to pick up steam, the COVID-19 crisis hit tribal nations, especially Navajo and Hopi. We had no idea what this would mean for our families who live there. What we did know was that their healthcare system wasn’t equipped and didn’t have the staff to take this pandemic. The supply chain had broken down across the country, and it was felt immediately by the Navajo and Hopi communities before the first case was discovered.
After researching how other cities and countries were preparing their healthcare workers, we knew we had to take action — we couldn’t wait for the government to act. Seeing other maker communities 3D printing headbands to produce protective face shields sparked me to use my 3D printer to print a face shield for my fiancé, who holds a doctorate of Nursing Practice and works on the frontlines. After posting a completed face shield on social media, I received requests from high-ranking healthcare officials and emergency management specialists (EMS) from Tuba City, Arizona, and Gallup, New Mexico. I learned that Gallup’s EMS force only had 30 face shields for 200-plus healthcare employees.
In response, IDC became involved and tapped into our networks to coordinate the 3D printing, assembling and delivery of protective face shields to tribal hospitals and clinics in rural Navajo and Hopi areas. IDC started production in late March and has established a dozen 3D printer partners in our network of design professionals, students and community members from California and New Mexico’s Navajo Technical University. We also opened up a donation channel that gave IDC the critical funds needed to provide our healthcare professionals and first responders with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to help keep them safe as they come into close contact with those infected by the coronavirus.
Once we printed all of the face shield headbands, we moved our operations to assembly, sanitizing before packaging, then delivered to healthcare centers in need. IDC members and the community have mobilized independent weekly delivery routes to safely deliver the PPE while adhering to additional restrictions like reservation curfews or checkpoints.
Being confined to your home and feeling helpless has triggered strong emotions of loneliness and isolation. In the midst of all this, collaboration has brought our community together. In most cases, collaboration has been a source of healing. As the need for PPE continues and the specific requirements evolve, our traditional teachings have guided us to adapt and overcome obstacles. Together, IDC has worked alongside other grass roots initiatives and tribal communities to get the warriors of this epidemic –nurses, healthcare providers, first responders– the protection they need to keep us protected. When we come together, we thrive; and we will thrive.