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Calling All Indigenous Innovators: An Exclusive Q&A With Jeff Ward

(Jeff Ward (right) with 2022 Indigenous Community Fellow Esibon Parent (left) who is part of the Solver team Reclaim!)

For the sixth year, Solve invites Indigenous innovators to submit applications to the Indigenous Communities Fellowship. This opportunity asks individuals across the US and Canada to share ways they are using traditional knowledge and technology to meet the social, environmental, and economic goals of their communities. 

In honor of Solve’s first year expanding the Fellowship to Canadian innovators, we sat down with Fellowship Leadership Judge, Jeff Ward, during the annual US Equity Summit to talk about the fellowship and his hopes for the program.

Ward is Ojibwe and Métis and is from Manitoba, Canada. Today, he lives in Victoria, British Columbia. He is the founder and CEO of Animikii, an Indigenous tech company working with organizations to build websites, web applications, and custom software. The team at Animikii has also developed a tool–Niiwin–to improve Indigenous data sovereignty.

(Photo of 2022 Indigenous Communities Fellows)

What do Indigenous technology and innovation mean to you today?

Indigenous people are technologists and we’ve always been technologists, except now we work with zeros and ones. If you think back to many Indigenous innovations and technologies, including medicines, we've always found ways to innovate and thrive. I’m trying to change the narrative and remind others that Indigenous people have always been technologists, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs. We’ve had to: to innovate, survive and thrive. 

When I started working 20 years ago as a young Indigenous technologist, it was a more lonely place to be, but those of us working in tech found each other. There are so many bright and upcoming Indigenous technologists that have access to learn how to code and design systems and now it’s less of a lonely place. We can build a larger Indigenous technology community and invite people to participate.

Indigenizing innovation comes down to worldview and values. When technology is developed through mainstream values that center on maximum profitability, transactional relationships, or seeing people and tech as a resource, we see the harm from those developed technologies. Through an Indigenous worldview, lens and values, we try to see technology as a way to uplift and empower people. I want to see what Indigenous tech and innovation can do for the broader social innovation world.

Why is it so important to collaborate across borders to support Indigenous communities? 

Invisible imaginary colonial borders separated many communities. A lot of our languages, cultures, traditions, and ceremonies to this day go across borders anyway. However, wherever there is colonization, there are some aspects of a shared experience within Indigenous communities globally. That doesn't stop at the Canadian/US border or borders around the world. In Canada, and even meeting people here in Tulsa, we share similar issues. 

We can expand Solve’s impact and connect innovators through this social impact network. When you have a bigger network, there are more opportunities to collaborate and lift each other's work up. This would help us all to share resources and energy to foster innovation and collaboration as we all develop solutions to interconnected challenges and opportunities.

What made you eager to work with Solve?

I learned about Solve at a gathering in Europe of all places. I was impressed with all the challenges and particularly the solutions submitted by Indigenous technologists. I didn’t know why I wasn’t aware of this amazing program or the Indigenous tech created through it and I feel lucky that I get to be a part of it. 

I was asked to connect and advise on some of the program elements. It would have been hard to say no to becoming part of the Solve community because it's right on target with what is near and dear to my heart, which is supporting Indigenous people using tech to uplift their people. 

(Ward sits among 2022 Indigenous Community Fellows from Rematriation and other US Equity summit attendees in Tulsa, Oklahoma)

Are there any current sectors or types of solutions you are particularly excited to judge once the application window closes in May?

I’m mostly excited to see the diversity of submissions that are sent to Solve because when I saw the selected ones from last year I was blown away by how different they each were.

My focus is on web applications and web technology, so I feel that is something I can provide a discerning eye towards evaluating and seeing the potential of what is being proposed.

Overall, I’m excited to take part in the Fellow Leadership Group and support Indigenous technologists and help get money into Indigenous communities. I’m happy to spread the word and to get this program expanded into Canada.

Applications to the Indigenous Communities Fellowship close May 9. The questions can be accessed through PDF and submitted online here. Solve also recognizes the need to promote and protect Indigenous data sovereignty and intellectual property. If you have any questions or concerns about the application or what is publicly viewable please don't hesitate to reach out to Solve ( and we'll be happy to assist you.

Indigenous Communities

Related Challenge

Indigenous Communities Fellowship (custom)

2023 Indigenous Communities Fellowship

Learn more about this challenge

Related Event

US Equity Summit 2023

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