Indigenization of artificial intelligence and programming


Students gather in class to work on their image recognition AI. Campers took a hike in the Black Hills this week and learned about traditional medicinal plants from Linda Black Elk.

Amelia Schafer

The Lakota AI Camp returned for a second year, June 11-30, to bring Indigenous teenagers to the Black Hills for a three-week intensive course in AI while at the same time learning about Lakota culture and language.

The inspiration for a youth-based code camp came from co-founder Mason Grimshaws, a Sicangu-Rosebud Lakota Nation citizen with experience growing up in the Rosebud Nation and in Rapid City. Grimshaw said that when he began his education at MIT, he wasn’t entirely sure what he was passionate about. Once he discovered computer science, things just clicked.

I had never seen it (computer programming) before while growing up in Rosebud and Rapid City, and I thought if I saw it before it would be really helpful for me, Grimshaw said.

Indigenous people are not often in STEM spaces, according to census data. American Indians make up less than 0.1% of computer programmers, while Native Hawaiians and Native Alaskans are only 0.07% and 0.05%, respectively.

People are also reading…

I had this idea that I pitched to my friends, Grimshaw said. I said, Hey, you need researchers, but they don’t exist, and I want to do a code camp, so let’s do a code camp, and I’ll create researchers here for you.

Another major component of the field is language learning, which Grimshaw says is one of the first big drivers for indigenous language-based AI research, called First Languages ​​AI Reality, or FLAIR.

During the second week, indigenous language researchers visited the camp to teach students about their learning and experience. One of the goals of the program is to be able to teach language-based AI to recognize indigenous languages ​​and promote learning.

The cultural aspect of the program is something that appealed to Elder Aiden Tunnissen, Oglala. This was Tunissen’s first year at the camp.

If you’re indigenous, try to learn about your culture because you never know if it could be gone in a flash, Tunnissen said. You have to try to do what you are doing to revive the language. Stay with the people and with your culture.

Ultimately, Grimshaw said he hopes to have an app that fosters conversation and bridges the learning gap when fluent speakers or seniors aren’t around.

He’s kind of an elder in a box, Grimshaw said. The simplest form is that he might be a pronunciation guide, so he can hear you speak and make suggestions, and the other would be in the very distant future, but something you can converse with.

Pairing language with programming is a multi-part project. The first week of the program teaches students a basic understanding of Python and data science. By the end of the first week, the students create an AI based on predictions they have used this year to forecast movie revenue.

The first weekend, students head out into the Black Hills to hike and learn about traditional plant medicines from a knowledge keeper, Linda Black Elk. At the end of the second week, students build a model that can identify plants from photos taken during their field trip.

We’re incorporating that historical cultural knowledge so they can learn more about their own ancestors, Grimshaw said.

Sometimes these AI models can break down, they can confuse one grassy plant with another, but that’s all part of the learning process.

I’m always impressed with the insight they get, they just seem to really understand how things work and they’re really smart, Grimshaw said. They always surprise us, honestly.

In the final week, students combine everything they’ve learned to create an app that helps them speak Lakota. The app you create can recognize something, like a chair, and tell the user the Lakota name of that object.

Access to broadband Internet services is limited on Alaska Native reservations and villages, something the camp takes into consideration.

Only 24 to 40 percent of Native households have reliable internet, Grimshaw said. So, in this space students get a laptop and are able to run things on the cloud.

In addition to the camp’s free lessons, students are provided with Alienware laptops and Samsung phones so they can continue their education after the three weeks are over.

On the last day of the camp, students demonstrate what they have learned to community members and their families.

Xavier LaPointe, Sicangu and Oglala, is the youngest student this year, he just finished the eighth grade. LaPointe said he was drawn to the field by a desire to understand something he didn’t know, programming.

I remember my first day seeing everyone’s computer because I was in the back row and there was so much going on and typing and stuff like that, LaPointe said. I was so confused because I didn’t get it but now I know what it means a lot. I’m still learning, though.

This year it was Niesha Marshalls, Sicangu Lakota, second year attending the program. Marshall, a high school sophomore, said she really enjoyed last year’s program and she wanted to come back and learn more.

You can make new friends and above all have fun, Marshall said.

The partnership and funding for the program is provided by the Patrick McGovern Foundation with support from META, but the directors also hope to begin raising funds from local businesses as well and create a more localized program.

This story is co-published by the Rapid City Journal and ICT, a news partnership covering Indigenous communities in the South Dakota area.

Amelia Schafer is the Indigenous affairs reporter for ICT and the Rapid City Journal. She is of Wampanoag and Montauk-Brothertown Indian Nation descent. She is based in Rapid City. You can contact her at

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to log in.

#Indigenization #artificial #intelligence #programming
Image Source :

Leave a Comment