Solution Overview

Solution Name:

GateKeepers App

One-line solution summary:

Utilizing emerging technology to document and preserve cultural and natural environments, ancestral knowledge and traditional practices.

Pitch your solution.

Kānaka Maoli have endured colonial and institutional oppression of our culture and language, systematic degradation of our lands and waters sanctioned by governmental, economic and military policies for over 200 years. Despite these destructive processes, Kānaka have survived cultural genocide, introduced disease, & disenfranchisement from our lands and waters. For over 1,500 years, weʻve maintained genealogical and spiritual relationships to land, disseminating ancestral knowledge, practices and values through oral transmission. The GateKeepers App utilizes technology to document & preserve the cultural & natural environments, ancestral knowledge & practices to develop a living archive & inventory of place. The archive contains histories, photos, videos, maps, planning documents and external resources of local history. This community-based and sourced tool promotes community empowerment and responsible management and stewardship. Core Hawaiian values of Aloha ʻĀina (deep love/care of the environment), Kuleana (responsibility to the greater good), Kaiāulu (community) and Pono (harmony/balance with the natural world) provide the foundation for the App. 

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11 is one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 which calls out to the need for sustainable cities and communities. Target 11.4 seeks to protect/safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage. The GateKeepers App provides a grassroots approach toward identifying/protecting significant cultural/natural heritage features/practices within a community. Kānaka Maoli have protected these places/practices for generations as foundational components of Hawaiian identity and cultural belonging. Research reveals Kānaka have the highest poverty rates (14.8%) for individuals and families, with 42% of homeless individuals identifying as Kānaka or Pacific Islander. Among youth in Hawai‘i, drug rates are highest for Kānaka youth and both Kānaka women/men have disproportionate incarceration rates. In 2019, Hawaiʻi had the highest cost of living among U.S. states.  Our dependence on ʻāina/land is intimate and kin based, we understand the land as our ancestor. The app facilitates grassroots engagement and stewardship for the long-term protection and management of cultural/natural environments. Tourism generates $16B annually into our local economy, which is dependent upon the support of Kānaka and local communities, the protection of our natural environment/organisms and a cultural heritage that continues to attract millions of visitors annually. The app can function to accommodate visitor and community access through virtualization, thus protecting the resources from human induced impacts.

What is your solution?

The GateKeepers App provides a tool for community members to identify and archive their cultural and natural heritage thus becoming advocates for these treasured resources. We provide a platform for the continued documentation of oral and written histories of place, people and activities so people have a greater understanding of the significant role cultural and natural resources play in maintaining healthy communities. Most people, locals and visitors alike, sincerely desire to know more about the places they reside in or visit. The GateKeepers App is a prototype that global communities can utilize to help them understand the history of a place or explore a site virtually, a virtual gatekeeper toward sustainable tourism, helping to reduce human impacts on these finite resources. 

Our prototyped solution is built out on the Glide App and was developed in a 2 month Bootcamp offered to culturally grounded, community serving technology makers through Our team members on the initial project included Austin Chang, Kylee Nakata, Maya Walton, and Malia Evans. The GateKeepers App contains significant resources yet requires like-minded people to promote and open doors so it can be built out to help other communities.

Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit?

Kānaka Maoli culture is filled with innovation and the embracing of new technology to benefit the health and well-being of the people. In 1820, King Kamehameha II developed a literacy initiative that would expand the Hawaiian Kingdomʻs 0% literacy rate to 95% by 1834. In over a decade, Kānaka Maoli became the most literate population in the world. By the 1870ʻs, the Hawaiian Kingdom boasted an almost 100% literacy rate compared to Russia at 12%, the U.K. at 76%, and the U.S at 80%. Between 1834-1948 over 100 Hawaiian language newspapers were published equaling about 1.5 million pages, making it one of the largest repositories of Indigenous language material in the world. Pre-contact population estimates for Hawaiʻi number between 700,000 - 1,000,000 people. By 1920, the Kānaka Maoli population had dwindled to 24,000 people. One hundred years later, in a remarkable comeback, over 527,000 people identified as Kānaka in the 2010 U.S. Census. Kānaka are resilient and innovative but many Kānaka struggle with their identity and personal connections to place, while surrounded by some of the most beautiful and prime real estate in the world. Colonial discourse and exploitive economic and military activities tied to the degradation of our cultural and natural resources have pushed Kānaka into marginalized physical and head spaces. We live on islands, the most isolated archipelago in the world, with finite resources. Our natural and cultural resources retain mana (spiritual energy) from centuries of responsible, respectful use by Kānaka and have the potential to help revitalize community health and well-being. My life's work has been to protect and preserve these environments and ancestral knowledge systems rooted in regenerative, sustainable and balanced relationships. Integrating ancestral wisdom with Western science and technology offers solutions for protection and the wise management of the cultural and natural environments.  

Which dimension of the Fellowship does your solution most closely address?

Support language and cultural revitalization, quality K-12 education, and support for first-generation college students

Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

Empowering communities to protect and preserve their cultural and natural resources through innovative and easily accessed technology embraces both social and environmental benefit and reciprocal gain to create a world that is healthy and prosperous for all. When the land thrives, human beings thrive. The app supports the normalization of Hawaiian language and cultural revitalization because it is grounded in Hawaiian core values and utilizes Hawaiian language resources throughout. Education of K-12 students and the broader community is an integral component embedded within the app as  resources are specifically chosen to teach about these places and inspire people to advocate and steward the cultural and natural resources that surround them.

In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Hilo, Hawai'i, USA

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Prototype: A venture or organization building and testing its product, service, or business model.

Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

The Gatekeeper app was the culminating project for the Purple Maia Makers Bootcamp in June-July of 2020. Purple Maiaʻs mission is "grounded in the knowledge that our ancestors were indigenous innovators who used their skills and perspective to serve their communities and lands. We support Hawaiian values in contemporary tech culture, and we think that by learning to innovate as indigenous technologists, we can be part of a global shift toward growing more sustainable and just societies." Our 4 person team built and tested the app with over 30 diverse people/organizations providing feedback including several educators and Native Hawaiian researchers and cultural practitioners. Reviews were overwhelmingly positive. A local community member states “I found this app useful, unlike any app Iʻve seen before. It's information I find interesting because Iʻve wanted to know more about my place. I also find this information useful to share with others of what our kūpuna (elders) used a place for." A teacher stated “It's going to be useful for me to educate myself and my students about the culture we are living in. The app is organized in bite-sized chunks, which makes it more accessible and appealing, especially for young people.” A new resident to the islands noted they would utilize the app, "When I want to educate myself about the native culture of the place I live."

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Malia Kapuaonālani Evans

Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your primary delegate.

Kānaka Maoli

Is your primary delegate a member of the community in which your project is based?

More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

Describe what makes your solution innovative?

Historically, development projects in the Hawaiian archipelago have been destructive and exploitive of the archaeological, cultural and natural landscapes. There are stark socio-economic and cultural disparities between financially robust development corporations versus local, often rural communities dependent on the natural resources for sustenance, continuation of traditional food production/food gathering and community well-being. The GateKeepers app provides community advocates a tool to develop an inventory of their archaeological, cultural and natural resources in order to properly manage and protect them from inappropriate development and/or carrying capacity issues.

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

The current iteration of the app is on Glide. It was the default used in our Bootcamp because it was deemed the simplest tool for students who do not code. We realize this may not be a long-term solution for our content and would like to explore more robust applications and their functionality, with the help of MIT Solve experts. Hubspot indicates that "as of January 2020, it's been estimated that a total of 1,800,000 apps are available on the Apple App Store. And that number doesn't even encapsulate Android apps in Google and Windows app stores either." (

Provide evidence that this technology works. Please cite your sources.

Mobile technology has profoundly impacted the way we move in the world. The availability and access to high speed internet has opened up a new way to communicate, gain information and experience places and people in innovative ways. "Mobile devices drove 61% of visits to U.S. websites in 2020, up from 57% in 2019" ( 2021).

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Audiovisual Media
  • Crowd Sourced Service / Social Networks
  • GIS and Geospatial Technology
  • Software and Mobile Applications
  • Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality

Does this technology introduce any risks? How are you addressing or mitigating these risks in your solution?

There are inherent risks when you have information available to the masses. As Indigenous and rural communities throughout the world deal with an influx of visitors and/or new residents to their communities, we need to be mindful and protective of the intellectual/cultural properties  and spaces that make them so unique. Allowing communities to utilize this app to document their history and stories empowers them with knowledge. Communities are the best judges of significance and powerful advocates on behalf of their resources. Weʻd like to build into the app the ability to keep specific data private so sacred places, burials and ceremonies and proprietary information and history is shared only within the community that values and protects it from exploitation.

What is your theory of change?

When we protect, advocate for and cultivate knowledge and understanding of Indigenous culture and natural resources, we tap into ancestral wisdom that sees all life as inter-connected and inter-dependent. When we acknowledge the natural world as our ancestor, we deeply understand that our actions, positive and negative, affect the environment and all of the organisms that are intricately tied to it, including humans. If you see yourself as an important component of an inter-connected system and a member of a kaiāulu, a community, you understand you have a kuleana, a responsibility to aloha ʻāina, to love and care for the collective system for the benefit and well-being of all. If communities with this mindset take action, take care of their resources, connect with like-minded communities and organizations, we create tipping points towards balanced, healthy environments, circular economies, and social benefits that integrate human understanding of our place in the world.

Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Women & Girls
  • Pregnant Women
  • LGBTQ+
  • Children & Adolescents
  • Elderly
  • Rural
  • Urban
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Middle-Income
  • Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
  • Persons with Disabilities

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 4. Quality Education
  • 10. Reduced Inequality
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 14. Life Below Water
  • 15. Life on Land

In which state(s) will you be operating within the next year?

  • Hawaii

In which state(s) do you currently operate?

  • Hawaii

How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Initially, we had over 30 diverse stakeholders review the GateKeepers App and provide their feedback. Based on that feedback, many changes were made before we pitched it to a group of community leaders for potential funding.  

Year 1: Realistically, year one we would need to continue to build out the data for the app and integrate geo-maps, etc. The app can be used now, but the data is limited.  

Year 5: The app will be fully populated and functioning. We need help knowing how to calculate this number given the growth in the use of travel/tourism apps. It would be built to be used by other Indigenous groups and global communities to document, inventory and preserve their significant cultural and natural heritage.  The number of tourists visiting Hawai'i's four major islands (Oahu, Maui, Kaua'i, Hawai'i) is 1M per month (pre-Covid-19). This does not include the number of downloads by residents and ex-pats. The potential for downloads of this app is great and has global impact!  

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and -- importantly -- how will you achieve them?

  1. Primary goal: Protect significant cultural/natural resources in Hawai'i through education, advocacy, addressing power dynamics. To do this we will utilize existing organizations that are currently doing the work of education, collaboration and communication. Note: There are cultural, economic, environmental and educational impacts to achieving this goal so we must create partnerships at county, state and federal/military levels. We also need to collaborate with MIT and other Indigenous and international organizations with both resources and power to address legal and imbalanced power dynamics.
  2. Secondary goal: Teach community members to research, document, and archive existing collections, especially gathering oral histories of kūpuna/elders. Our plan is to build out the process using current networks that are expansive throughout the Hawaiian archipelago (schools, hālau hula, Hawaiian civic clubs, historical societies and university/college oral history programs).
  3. Tertiary goal: Build out the technology to support the other two goals while aligning fully with the proprietary and cultural values. The technology and content has to be vetted through the lens of foundational Hawaiian values. We need to build in this element of protection because of the economic malfeasance that takes place at areas that are significant to our people.

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

  1. Primary goal: Campaigns that are built out, networking with various groups, communications, leveraging other platforms (social media/tech/newsprint), amount of data collected from partners, policies changed, equalization of power dynamics, and advocacy activities. 
  2. Secondary goal: Identifying and measuring involvement and collaborations at the different landmark sites. Engagement of the various organizations. Documenting and creating a repository of the content associated with each landmark. Develop a workshop (online/in person/video) on how to access existing archives/collections. Involvement of children/teens in the process, especially with oral history interviews of kūpuna.
  3. Tertiary goal: Robust data repository of cultural assets as well as general app statistics such as: active install rates, the number of people who install our app and then don't uninstall it, the number of ratings we get, our average rating in the app marketplace, and if we end up selling our app we will have the statistics for revenue generated. We will also track data on the virtual sites accessed, and potentially use drone imaging to measure baseline and snapshots in time to measure environmental impacts. An element of protection built in because of economic malfeasance that takes place at areas that are significant to our people.

What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?

I am a GateKeeper of cultural knowledge not a business person. I know how to do many things that cultivate, nurture and sustain cultural practices and knowledge systems. I'm an intelligent and resourceful person and willing to learn what I need to know, but I lack business training, access and opportunity to resources and promoters that can help move this from the pilot phase to the market phase.  As I mentioned, this isn't a solely Kānaka solution, this has the potential to be adopted by Indigenous and global communities who want to document, archive, educate and foster greater understanding of their significant cultural and natural resources and practices.  

How do you plan to overcome these barriers?

Honestly, I come from a generation and culture that doesnʻt ask questions. We are taught to kilo, deeply observe, listen carefully, utilize all of your senses to integrate the knowledge that is being shared with you. Asking questions was not encouraged. You learned by doing. This methodology of learning worked well with acquiring Indigenous knowledge and skills but was not valued from a western perspective as I moved through academia. Iʻm open to learning new ways of acquiring knowledge, new skills and moving in the world, while maintaining my firm foundation. Culture is not static and my ancestors embraced new technology for the benefit of the people. I also embrace that mindset.

About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Not registered as any organization

How many people work on your solution team?

Our team consists of myself, my sister Blossom Johnston and our tech specialist Austin Chang. We are all Kānaka Maoli. I don't have the resources or the knowledge to take this to the next level even though I've created a viable template and repository with a database of significant resources. 

How long have you been working on your solution?

11 months

Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Iʻm # 11 of 12 children born to my parents Blossom Kalama and James Evans. My mother, a pure Kānaka chose me to be the GateKeeper. As a young child, she would take me to Hawaiian cultural sites, instilling within me the kuleana, responsibility and privilege to protect and preserve these places for those who come after us. The disconnect between what she was teaching me and what was valued in our society created great angst for me. I dropped out of high school, left Hawaiʻi for a while and eventually returned and started a family. Those seeds my mother planted lay dormant, until I birthed my 1st child and understood the kuleana. I co-founded a culturally grounded non-profit, got my B.A and M.A despite being a high school drop out, taught pre-K through college level courses, initiated an ethnography field school and continue to do applied research and mentor our next generation of aloha ʻāina advocates. Bottom line: we are well-positioned from a content and relationship perspective but aren't well positioned from a business perspective. We need the help of reputable organizations like those associated with this MIT Solve challenge.

What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

Hawaiʻi is one of the most diverse states within the U.S. and those who have grown up here understand that respectful relationships include proper, harmonious interactions with the environment and maintaining healthy relationships with the diversity of people who live here. Families in Hawaiʻi are beautifully imbued with multiple ethnicities, religions and ways of being and our team fully embraces that diversity, equity and inclusion. We respect and include all people unless their actions prove to be untrustworthy and not aligned to our values of aloha ʻāina, kuleana, kaiāulu, and pono. 

At this point, we need mentors and promoters with diverse skills, knowledge and dispositions to help us bring this app to market. 

It would be ideal to have MIT bring a few other Indigenous leaders to the table to help inform this work so that it can be used globally. 

Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Solve?

We need everything you're providing to your Solver teams. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I believe I need to step into because I'm at a stage in my life that I've amassed a wealth of knowledge that needs to be leveraged and put out into the world for the betterment of our and other indigenous peoples. 

We need funding, mentoring, promoting, a peer-group, a network of innovators, insight into the values that can be built into this app based on the commonalities between indigenous cultures, credible and respected media exposure, tech support, evaluation support, and more.  

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Legal or Regulatory Matters
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and global media)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
  • Product / Service Distribution (e.g. expanding client base)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design, data analysis, etc.)

Please explain in more detail here.

  • Human capital: we need to assemble a team of indigenous (and other) leaders to help inform and guide our approach to the work and to the business model.  
  • Business model: we need to develop a business plan that is built on traditional values first.  
  • Financial: we need the funds to bring our solution to market. 
  • Legal/regulatory matters (city, county, state, federal laws): the amount of legal and regulatory bureaucracy in Hawai'i can be overwhelming. We need a lot of deep expertise in a variety of areas to help us solve for historical and on-going legal challenges. 
  • Public relations: we believe this app has the potential to shift the way people think and behave in regards to significant cultural landmarks. Education is a first step toward shifting mindsets. We need the help of experienced PR leaders to make this work from a communications perspective.  We also want to tap into well-known influencers (indigenous/others) to promote the app as a way to protect and promote environmental sustainability. 
  • Monitoring and evaluation: there are some standard evaluative methods clearly identified for web-based apps. We will use these but will need help aligning the evaluation to our core values and goals. This is a heavy lift for any organization unless they have outside expertise.  
  • Product/service distribution: This needs to be built out in the business plan with the help of experts who do this regularly. We do know there are big names associated with Hawai'i (Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, etc) and it's tourism industry that could be tapped, with the right incentive and relationships. 
  • Technology: one of the first steps is to build out the functionalities which means assessing the current Glide app and whether we need to migrate to a different back-end for Gatekeeper. 

What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

  • Business experts to help us develop the right kind of business structure and plan. We want to work with experts that understand the need to align all plans with our core values rather than just profit. 
  • Philanthropic Foundations like Omidyar, Bill & Melinda Gates (BMG), Chan-Zuckerberg (CZ) to help fund the start-up and scaling of the model to other indigenous communities (nationally/internationally).  The Omidyar Foundation has funded a number of Hawai'i-based sustainability efforts and they might be a good fit for this. Both the BMG and CZ foundations have a stake in Hawai'i as land owners. They need to understand their impact and help design the solution.  
  • MIT Evaluators to help structure a reasonable (automated) plan for evaluating impact that does not weigh our team down. 
  • MIT' Tech support team to help identify options and help build it out for the long-term that is scalable to other people groups. MIT has the expertise to leverage big-data, AI, AR/VR and other exponential technologies to help scale this solution in the most culturally appropriate ways possible.
  • Influencers with a connection to Hawai'i: Barack/Michelle Obama, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Nainoa Thompson, etc. 
  • Indigenous leaders: 

Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize to advance your solution?

This quote from the the reason our solution should be considered for this prize. "Indigenous Peoples are distinct social and cultural groups that share collective ancestral ties to the lands and natural resources where they live, occupy or from which they have been displaced. The land and natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures, livelihoods, as well as their physical and spiritual well-being. They often subscribe to their customary leaders and organizations for representation that are distinct or separate from those of the mainstream society or culture. Many Indigenous peoples still maintain a language distinct from the official language or languages of the country or region in which they reside. 

We, like other indigenous people are rooted to our land and waters because they are a source of health and healing. The Gatekeeper app helps us develop agency for the things that matter the most--our people, our lands and our sustainability are all tied together. 

Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ASA Prize for Equitable Education? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI For Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

Solution Team

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