Today's Date: April 16, 2021
USA Fashion to Manufacture a Collection of Solid Basic Apparel as a Core Offering of its USA Fashion Women’s Clothing Bran   •   Make Reading Part of Your Mother's Day Celebration   •   New Invention Stops Costly Snags with Face Mask Strings   •   Health Foundation of South Florida, Miami-Dade and Broward counties partner to launch locally produced, multi-media COVID vaccin   •   /C O R R E C T I O N -- SWAIA/Santa Fe Indian Market/   •   Wildflower Strengthens Commitment to Black Maternal Health with New Tools, Resources for Black Mothers   •   Cymbiotika Launches Mother’s Day Bundle   •     STI Awareness Month: Rachel Zar, Relationship and Sex Therapist on Staying Safe Between the Sheets   •   Franklin Covey Co. Named to 2021 Training Industry Top 20 Training Companies List For 10th Time For Best-in-Class Leadership Sol   •   Biden administration forces taxpayers to fund the trafficking of aborted baby body parts, says Family Research Council   •   CUPE Lays Out Priorities for Budget 2021   •   Government of Canada COVID-19 Update for Indigenous Peoples and communities   •   Labcorp to Webcast Its Annual Meeting of Shareholders   •   Chuck E. Cheese International Expansion Continues With New Store In El Salvador   •   Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware Joins Pastor Hackett's Protest for Diversity on Chancery Court   •   Global COVID-19 Vaccine Inequalities Are Scandalous, Says AHF   •   Wrangler® Unveils Global Sustainability Platform: WeCare Wrangler™   •   Watercrest Celebrates the 100th Birthday of Norma Garrison at Watercrest Winter Park Assisted Living and Memory Care   •   Amplifying Black Voices in Film: TLG Motion Pictures Selects Los Angeles Filmmaker as Winner of the Big Pitch   •   Reynolds Consumer Products Inc. to Report First Quarter 2021 Financial Results on May 5, 2021
Bookmark and Share

Balancing Technology In The Navajo Nation

By Erny Zah, New America Media, Navajo Times 

SAN FRANCISCO -  Heather Fleming remembers being a young girl in Vanderwagen, N.M., living with her grandparents. She recalls hauling water and living without electricity.

Her cousins worked for the Indian Health Service and would sometimes allow her to tag along when they would bring in water. But this wasn't the familiar trip to fetch water from the nearest livestock well: Her cousins were civil engineers, and when they brought water, it was to an entire neighborhood.

Those trips helped Fleming see possibilities, and now the 31-year-old product design engineer is on a unique career trajectory as the head of her own nonprofit company.

Fleming said the mission of her company, San Francisco-based Catapult Design, is to help Third World communities fill their own self-defined needs.

Fleming, who is Bit'ahnii (Folded Arms Clan), born for bilagáana, is a graduate of Gallup High School and Stanford University.

However, in a field where product design engineers in the Bay Area can earn more than $70,000 a year fresh out of college, Fleming has chosen a different path.

It doesn't pay nearly as much in money, but offers great opportunity to make a difference.

"I think what Heather saw was a niche there, poverty or food, where somebody has to design a solution," said Bill Burnett, head of Stanford's products design program, who recruited Fleming into the program. "I don't know of another for-profit consulting firm addressing this."

Fleming's company has helped communities around the world - South Africa, Rwanda and India, to name a few - by designing products that meet a need the local people have identified.

She would like to bring some of her innovative ideas back to the Navajo Nation, too.

Last June, Fleming and her team of five spent a couple of weeks on the Navajo Reservation to explore ideas for supplying home electricity needs with renewable energy.

The team ended up staying with Leonard Begay in his rural home in Nazlini Chapter.

"They wanted to know how some families live out here," recalled Begay, 43. "I guess what they were looking at was solar and wind energy and watershed projects."

All the visitors were polite and respectful, he said, noting that most of the team had never seen so many Native Americans before.

Fleming is sensitive to the need to respect communities they want to help - engineers have historically been among the worst perpetrators of cultural imperialism, striding confidently into unknown territory and telling the locals what they need, instead of asking what the people see as a priority.

"I think it's time to readdress how we evaluate poverty and rethink how we look at issues," she said.

At the same time, she doesn't see herself as a cultural imperialist on the Navajo Nation, adding that it's discouraging when people label her as such for trying to give back.
She cited an example to illustrate how she goes about finding solutions for what the community wants versus what the engineers want for them.

A Kinlichee Chapter family was living in a plywood home without electricity and running water, but when Fleming asked the people what they wanted to make their life better, "it wasn't electricity, it was a better road."

"We have to be sensitive to what people actually want," she said. In this case the family needed a road engineer, not product design.

Once the need is expressed, Catapult Design finds an agency or company to fund the design of the product, which Fleming said can be difficult.

But Fleming's ambition doesn't end with a product, like the wind turbines she designed in Guatemala or the reusable birthing kit in India. She wants to bring a product that will enhance the overall life of the community receiving the product.

Ideally she wants to design "something that ultimately affects job creation. Even if you get the people these technologies, if you're not giving them an income or a way to improve their way of life, then you are really not doing anything for an individual."

"She has a ton of energy," said Burnett, who continued to work with Fleming after she graduated from college. "Boy, she is determined. When she gets an idea to do something, you don't want to get in her way."

Fleming said she is still trying to figure out how to fit her skills and desire into the needs of the Navajo people, and is in talks with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

"I'm continually impressed with what they got going on," she said.

Fleming has noted that water pumps could be improved, but said all the stakeholders have to be involved to make any project successful. And it's important to make sure the technology fits, pointing to the breakage problem many people here have experienced with home solar units.

"A lot of it is because people are pushing these things on the community without getting the buy-in or making it sustainable to them," Fleming said. "The need, want, and what-would-they-pay-for are the three main criteria."


STORY TAGS: NATIVE AMERICAN NEWS, INDIAN NEWS, NATIVE NEWS, MINORITY NEWS, CIVIL RIGHTS, DISCRIMINATION, RACISM, DIVERSITY, RACIAL EQUALITY, BIAS, EQUALITY

Video

White House Live Stream
LIVE VIDEO EVERY SATURDAY
alsharpton Rev. Al Sharpton
9 to 11 am EST
jjackson Rev. Jesse Jackson
10 to noon CST


Video

LIVE BROADCASTS
Sounds Make the News ®
WAOK-Urban
Atlanta - WAOK-Urban
KPFA-Progressive
Berkley / San Francisco - KPFA-Progressive
WVON-Urban
Chicago - WVON-Urban
KJLH - Urban
Los Angeles - KJLH - Urban
WKDM-Mandarin Chinese
New York - WKDM-Mandarin Chinese
WADO-Spanish
New York - WADO-Spanish
WBAI - Progressive
New York - WBAI - Progressive
WOL-Urban
Washington - WOL-Urban

Listen to United Natiosns News