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Unlocking Silent Histories

Inspiring Indigenous youth to break boundaries in education, technology, and leadership, innovatively shaping each from their perspectives

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

We seek to counter over 500 years of human and symbolic violence against Indigenous communities that have led to discrimination and marginalization. Western education and media representations devalue traditional cultures, compelling Indigenous youth to leave their communities for education and employment. This results in the loss of cultural knowledge and native languages. Through an engaged critical and creative process, we inspire Indigenous youth to critically read media and creatively re-image their worlds through digital productions. The voices of youth lead our process, deciding what cultures, traditions, and knowledge to project and which methods apply to our learning and leadership model. Our collaboratively fostered learning and leadership model impacts younger generations, allowing them to shape their social futures. We achieve this through employing an engaging set of experiences for youth to learn critical media literacy, technology, and leadership. Our curriculum toolkit unleashes analytical, technical, and leadership skills, which in turn builds technically savvy visionaries who utilize media to bridge difference by fostering conversations and action with their productions. Investing in Indigenous youth voice and media affords us to: Explore innovative ways to nurture community-connected, culturally and socially just learning opportunities; Reconnect youth and their audiences to valuable traditional knowledge and ancestral social and ecological stewardship; Develop youth leaders who peacefully and constructively foster social change and take diplomatic action against current local and global violations; Facilitate ways for youth to become leaders who work alongside policy makers and development practitioners to inform locally generated models for NGOs who do this work. Placing tools in the hands of youth promotes Indigenous-led solutions to local and global issues, bringing about positive and peaceful cultural, ecological, and economic action.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our primary beneficiaries are youth, ages 12-18, in rural Indigenous communities. Secondary beneficiaries include Indigenous-hired program leaders, families, and community members. Indirect beneficiaries are foreigners within and beyond the boundaries of our work. Technology-enabled inquiry makes youth the primary actors of their research and amplifies their voices and visions. Their media stories illuminate multigenerational knowledge and perspective through conducting family and community interviews. Moreover, their media productions both revitalize and archive cultures and languages and becomes a mechanism to quickly respond to locally identified issues and injustices. These productions become tools by which to incite native-inspired solutions to problems facing vulnerable populations and to generate educational content that fosters local, regional, national, and international empathetic dialogue.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our unique approach addresses interrelated and complex disparities facing Indigenous communities: inequitable educational access, disparate digital landscape presence, and biased leadership opportunities. We break boundaries of normative thought by moving away from traditional operational roles where foreigners maintain decision-making power, so that youth quickly and seamlessly become leaders of the program and the organization. We draw on the understanding that foreigners cannot “liberate” or uplift impoverished and oppressed communities, only leaders from within can do this as we take on a supportive and listening role. Our job is to attend to how our partners articulate their conditions, aspirations, and solutions, using media as a vehicle to cultivate successful and inspiring resolutions. We are guided by how local leaders create familial and municipal relationships so that we can parallel work with them, adapting to what emerges organically through our collective practice.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

We envision a future where Indigenous youth leaders around the world leverage media to make peaceful and positive local and global cultural, ecological, and economic impacts, countering historical hardships stemming from marginalization and discrimination.

Expertise in sector

  • 5-7 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

In my 20 years of working side by side with underrepresented youth in diverse contexts, I have witnessed their acumen. When afforded the change to approach learning openly and creatively, youth passionately and enthusiastically embrace and lead inquiry. Equally, they innovatively use media to counter deficit perspectives held about them and their communities. Inspired by this, my life’s work is dedicated to collaboratively discovering socially just and culturally connected educational forms.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

In keeping with our vision, our work is, in and of itself, organically influenced by our talented Indigenous team. Their experience and knowledge informs our emerging education, media, and leadership methods. Three foundations guide our constant state of metamorphosis and embryonic practice. These include: opening spaces, unlearning through critical consciousness, and releasing authority. Leaders create open spaces for youth to select their own inquiry topics, direct their learning and research and produce their media messages. In order to tend toward transformation all participating parties work to embrace critical consciousness, resisting traditional power dynamics in education, media, and leadership. Breaking down barriers of both sides is critical to our mutual success. As we unearth our biases we create structures that enable youth agency as they transcend norms and incite revolution that is youth and community led.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Indigenous youth participants, program mentors, and coordinators drive local program adoption. The team crafts their own methodology to analyze short and long term progress that inevitably shapes program adaptation. Using an iterative and reflective practice ensures that the work rises from youth voice upward through the organization. Briefly, youth-identified topics and research makes visible native knowledge, practices, values, and what is important to the local community’s health and opulence. The leadership team remains attentive to youth voice in order to support their media productions and decide how productions are widely shared. The result is an Indigenous-informed stabilization model based on listening and responding to local counsel. Indigenous leaders and youth are best positioned to do this work because they know how to navigate their social, cultural, and political context. We will employ this model and method as we inspire Indigenous youth leaders around the world.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The explicit and implicit strength of Indigenous communities is resistance and resilience in the face of profound and ongoing discrimination and marginalization. We learn from their proud navigation of dominant influence to maintain important communal traditions, knowledges, and languages. Their interests and forms of addressing concerns related to culture, poverty, and environment contribute to altering racism and bring forth radically new forms of education, media expression, and leadership.

Geographic Focus

We currently work with Maya Guatemala youth in 9 locations and the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

Over the span of three years, Indigenous leaders initiate and localize our program. Through collaborative practices, leaders create a short and long term plan. This begins with program familiarization, adaptation, and vision, and a team-developed assessment tool. Leaders facilitate our curriculum toolkit to inspire youth-produced media. Their analysis tools allow them to be responsive, and illuminate the best ways to bring awareness to their work locally, regionally, and internationally.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No
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Attachments (2)


This document reflects our redefined common purpose, after 5 years of working in Guatemala and 1 year of working with the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.


This document is the Executive Summary of Unlocking Silent Histories, a nonprofit organization founded in 2013. The summary describes our mission and vision, as well as the rationale for our commitment to breaking boundaries in education, technology and leadership, guided by Indigenous voice and knowledge.


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this is such important work

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