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Indigenous people have always known about STEM

June 21, 2020

Over the past 25 years, Actua has the privilege of cultivating deep, meaningful relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities across Canada to offer culturally-based STEM programs for Indigenous youth. Reconciliation is one of our founding principles and I am incredibly proud that we now work with 200 Indigenous community partners to engage 35,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth each year. We are deeply grateful to our InSTEM program supporters who have helped make this work possible, including Suncor Energy Foundation, Imperial, Future Skills Centre and the Government of Canada.  Today, on National Indigenous People’s Day, I’m happy to have Doug Dokis, Director of Actua’s National Indigenous Youth in STEM program share his first hand account of the tremendous growth and impact that Actua’s InSTEM program has had across Canada.

Doug is Anishinabe and is a member of the Dokis First Nation in Northern Ontario. 

“Indigenous people have always known about STEM”

In order for our youth to excel in their life pursuits, they must understand and take pride in who they are as Indigenous people. That understanding includes the knowledge that our culture, and ways of knowing are equal to, and often form the basis of what we today call Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. We at Actua, are simply connectors. We are connecting Indigenous youth with examples of how our ancestors were some of Canada’s greatest innovators. We are working with Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Community leaders and youth all together to connect Traditional Knowledge with modern science, and inspire youth to be those next great innovators. 

I joined Actua 7 years ago to lead their national InSTEM program. Prior to that, I had been working with Indigenous youth and communities in education for over 25 years. 

Since my early days as a youth worker, I have been driven towards systemic change. The work of Actua and its network member programs in 200 Indigenous communities has provided me with the platform to continue to strive towards that change.

Over the years, we’ve gone from delivering successful workshops and week-long day camps in Indigenous communities, to now also offering 11-day land camps for high school students to earn credit. What’s unique about the land camps is that they create opportunities for youth to go out on the land and learn from Indigenous Elders, Knowledge keepers, and Actua’s STEM instructors, offering a direct relationship between these two knowledge sets. 

I’m proud to say that we are now also delivering accredited high school Indigenous Knowledge and STEM courses which help integrate Indigenous land based experiences into the academic schedule during the school year. This is a big step forward in recognizing Indigenous Knowledges and their place in the current education system, while at the same time contributing to improving Indigenous high school graduation rates. 

The impact of these programs is evident as we have witnessed first hand, campers become instructors, and instructors move onto meaningful careers in STEM – some of them even at Actua’s headquarters in Ottawa. 

As we continue to create new pathways for Indigenous youth through Actua’s InSTEM programs, we do so with full recognition that there is still a long way to go in bringing about the systemic change in the education system that will allow for Indigenous Knowledge to be an integral part of education for Indigenous youth.

 

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