Googlers visit Fort Peck Tribes to discuss socially beneficial technology

The Fort Peck Tribes invited a small team of Googlers to visit Fort Peck Reservation in Poplar, Montana, for two days of bidirectional learning and relationship building. By learning more about the Tribes’ key values (like respect, spirituality, and inclusiveness) the Google team — whose expertise is in the responsible development of artificial intelligence (AI) and generative AI systems — began learning how to define social benefit more inclusively and think about how these learnings could create a better foundation for Google products and research. The Google team welcomed this opportunity to support the company’s AI Principles, including AI Principle #1, “Be socially beneficial” and AI Applications We Will Not Pursue.

Fort Peck Tribes, including the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, are U.S. federally-recognized Tribes, which are self-governing and sovereign entities. The Tribes’ Reservation spans a large piece of land, covering 110 by 50 miles, and varies widely, from flood plains along the Missouri River to high-elevation prairies. Summer temperatures are in the triple digits and winter temperatures are often well below freezing. The Reservation’s resident population of Tribal members and non-Indians is widely dispersed on the most rural Reservation in the “lower 48” (the U.S. States excluding Alaska and Hawaii).

The relationship building — led on the Google side by Diane Korngiebel, Ethical, Legal & Social Implications Scholar, and on the Tribes’ side by Kenny Smoker, Director, Health Promotion Disease Prevention Program — occurred remotely over the past year, but with this first in-person visit, the Google team and the Tribes hoped to not only grow the relationship further, but also facilitate a reciprocal learning experience.

Through this visit, the Google team started learning how to better support Fort Peck Tribes’ unique identities, cultures, and sovereignty — from helping maintain their languages, addressing disparities and biases in representations, being mindful of data misuse, to striving for products and services that are culturally relevant. The Google team is exploring various potential collaborative projects with Fort Peck Tribes, including developing a Siouan AI language model together. As the Google team and Fort Peck Tribes continue to build this relationship, they are both hopeful that the Google AI Ecosystem will continue to apply these learnings to build products that are more useful and helpful for everyone.

Activities throughout the two-day visit were packed, as Tribal leadership, Elders, Youth, Fort Peck Health Promotion Disease Prevention administrators, and Googlers learned about each other personally and professionally, through shared conversation and meals, including traditional foods (the buffalo stew was a team favorite). The Google team was also deeply honored to participate in the magnificent Pow Wow dancing. (Googlers’ dancing was quite a bit less magnificent, but everyone tried!) In addition, Googlers crafted medicine pouches, working with leather, synthetic sinew, and beads, while learning about how such pouches were used. The team also learned about how the Tribes hunt on their lands, including buffalo, which are sacred and especially meaningful to the Tribes. When hunting, all parts of the animal are used, as acts of both thankfulness and respect. Each meal began with an Elder offering a prayer in the Lakota, Dakota, or Nakoda languages followed by a translation for non-speakers and guests. All events, including the get-together, also begin with prayers.

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