To govern ourselves means to govern our stories and our ways of telling stories. It means that the rhythm of the drumbeat, the language of smoke signals and our moccasin telegraph can be transformed to the airwaves and modems of our times. We can determine our use of the new technologies to support, strengthen and enrich our cultural communities.

Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew, Cree/French Métis New Media Artist

In “Drumbeats to Drumbytes Origins” (1994


In digital fabrication spaces under their own direction, technologically empowered Indigenous craftswomen can free their communities from global supply chains, and take back the traditional strength of local, self-sufficient, environmentally sustainable, production.

In the process, Canada’s Native communities will become leaders in a worldwide manufacturing revolution and a model for the world:  an example of future technologies married to traditional values and artistry, as a promising alternative to the current industrial paradigm with its economic pressures and environmental costs.

Since the early 2000s, community spaces that facilitate design, rapid prototyping, and interaction with emergent technologies have become a recognizable phenomenon. Known as Fab Labs and makerspaces. The driving vision behind social digital fabrication, like 3D printing, is a global socio-economic transformation, individualizing and localizing production. Sharing design files instead of products, addressing local production needs and capacity, without the waste and environmental impact of traditional manufacturing and distribution chains.

Open innovation, knowledge sharing, and peer-to-peer learning are central principles in these spaces;

  • Education: making technological knowledge accessible to everyone through local events, workshops and online materials (plans, designs, tutorials, code).
  • Democracy: devoted to creating material solutions to local needs, fabrication spaces drive civic engagement, inspire constructive activism and engage communities in shared critical thinking, unlocking grassroots capabilities.
  • Commons: free / open software, hardware and peer production; designing for open source, with blueprints available online.


In digital fabrication spaces, teachers and students collaborate in a hands-on process of ‘Active Learning’, confronting complex, real-world problems, sharing knowledge, experimenting and failing, analyzing and redesigning, on the pathway to successful fabrication – with each iteration fine tuning their technical knowledge. Thus, both teachers and students ultimately join together in a shared exercise of educational bootstrapping.

Such community-driven learning is social inclusive and intergenerational: bringing every member of the community together to gain from each other growing experience. And from this collective advancement, students develop individual confidence, in their skills and their powers of self-expression: The belief, “I can build almost anything” is personally verifiable, and the proof is demonstrable (each success builds a student’s portfolio).

Cultural Transmission

Through digital fabrication, Indigenous communities can reinvigorate the role of traditional craft and art, reestablishing that common cultural core as a part of daily practice for even the very young.

Elders with knowledge of traditional design, can engage digitally, sharing their work at any point in the process with Indigenous youth everywhere. And traditionally crafted hand-productions can be

scanned, the resulting models demonstrating for everyone on the network, and for posterity, the design qualities of traditional crafts.  The structural and materials insights, thus preserved, will serve as guiding wisdom for generations to come.


An Indigenous digital fabrication education can close the “digital divide” for communities across Canada, and, particularly because of its flexibility and suitability to younger students, offer a more direct route to economic self-empowerment than traditional educational pathways.  Regardless of a student’s formal education history, even if they’ve dropped out, they can develop high level technological competencies, along with the social collaboration ‘soft skills’ that will permit them to comfortably and successfully enter a work world currently dominated by those from higher-education communities. In short, it can level the playing field without requiring that students manage the hurdles or expense associated with traditional higher education.

For local opportunities, a digital fabrication education will include the fundamentals of intellectual property and managing income, putting digitally empowered Indigenous craftspeople in a powerful new position to directly share (and control the sharing of) their work in digital markets, unconstrained by the usual gatekeepers of mass media and mass production.  As entrepreneurs, contract-designers, or high-skill employees, trained Indigenous digital fabrication artists will quickly become leaders in the information economy.

Environmentally Sustainable Production and Distribution  (CAN-NWAC Policy Priority #4)

Digital Fabrication technology delivers products only when and where needed, without the cost and environmental impact associated with global supply chains.  For a remote village, where efficiencies of scale and distance are lost (e.g. bush plane delivery) this difference is particularly acute.

A Michigan Technology University showed that even in cities, where supply chains are most efficient, 3D printing took between 41% and 74% less energy than a comparable product manufactured and delivered conventionally.

Phonesavanh, instructor of the first Indigenous Fab Lab to open in Canada: Fab Lab Onaki. Watch the story here.

Indigenous and traditional knowledge are fundamental in building pathways to develop innovative processes and strategies for locally-appropriate sustainable development. This knowledge is integral to a cultural complex that also encompasses language, systems of classification, resource use practices, social interactions, ritual and spirituality. These unique ways of knowing are important facets of the world’s cultural diversity, and provide a foundation for comprehensive knowledge society.

(UNESCO, 2013)