By Jennifer Flanagan
In April 2019, the Future Skills Centre announced support for Actua’s Indigenous Youth in STEM for-credit programs in Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Northern Alberta. This program is also supported by our corporate sector partners Suncor Energy Foundation and Imperial. I had the pleasure of hearing from participants Ethan Boyer and Jordan Zenhenko (previous youth spotlight blog post), about their experiences.
Jennifer: Tell me a bit about yourself and your background?
Ethan: My name is Ethan Boyer, I am a Métis youth from Trenton Ontario. I was born in Sudbury but have spent most of my life in Trenton. I am currently attending Trent University for my Master’s of Canadian and Indigenous Studies with my primary research focus being land based education. I also completed my undergraduate degree in Indigenous and History at Trent University.
Jennifer: What made you want to be an InSTEM Instructor with Actua this summer?
Ethan: I initially applied to work for the Kikandaaswiwin Mookiisin land camp that was being facilitated by Canadore College and I had no idea that there was even an option to be an InSTEM instructor. I learned about the opportunity when Doug Dokis, [Actua’s Director of InSTEM] phoned me to offer me a position as an InSTEM instructor. In the end, what motivated me to do this job was the opportunity to work with Indigenous youth in communities across the country. This is the type of work that I strive to make a career of and the core values that Actua embodies were exactly what I was looking for.
Jennifer: What was the training experience like for you?
Ethan: For me, the training for the InSTEM position was wonderful and covered nearly all the bases. Looking back, I appreciate how much of a challenge it must have been to design a training program for a team that is about to travel across the country and teach in a variety of different environments. Despite the challenge, however, I felt that we were wonderfully prepared to fulfill the roles that we were asked to.
Jennifer: Please describe a moment when you felt that a student really connected land-based learning to STEM?
Ethan: There were many instances throughout our time teaching InSTEM that I felt a student really connected to the idea that land-based learning is STEM, but I think if I had to think of one profound instance it would be in Fort McPherson. We had gathered all of the students around and were about to do the “Where Are You Caribou?” activity and we as a team thought it would be great for the students if they could hear traditional knowledge from one of the Elders that was at the camp. We all had the amazing opportunity to sit back and listen to this Elder tell stories about the Caribou and explain her knowledge of them to the whole camp. While she was speaking, I took a glance at all of the students and to see how infatuated they were and to see people within their own community embodying STEM was a great learning experience.
Jennifer: What was it like working alongside community members and knowledge keepers?
Ethan: Working alongside community members and knowledge keepers throughout the summer was one of the most rewarding aspects of the whole job. Not only did we get to meet and engage with such amazing people all over the country, we also got to witness the impact on the students of seeing their fellow community members taking part in the work. Throughout the entire summer our team was very conscious of involving community members and Elders so the students could see themselves represented in what they were learning.
Jennifer: How has your experience as an InSTEM instructor impacted your worldview?
Ethan: My worldview has been in a constant mode of change over the past couple of years as I have been reconnecting with my Indigenous identity and learning from elders and knowledge holders through ceremony. My experience as an InSTEM instructor truly embodied a lot of values that I have been learning and overall it taught me a lot about community and the need to be engaged with the land and with our knowledge holders.
Jennifer: What skills have you learned or enhanced due to this experience? Has the instructor experience affected how you will plan your future career? If so, how?
Ethan: Throughout my life I have always dealt with high levels of anxiety, and working with Actua gave me the chance to learn a lot about myself and how to deal with my anxiety and change. I feel that we were all forced to learn how to adapt very quickly and how to solve problems on the run which has greatly helped me with my graduate degree up to this point. Not only has this experience as an InSTEM instructor helped me deal with change, it also emphasized the importance of teamwork and communication and this is something we all worked on a lot throughout the summer.
Jennifer: Has your understanding of the value of Land based learning been impacted by this experience? If so, how?
Ethan: Most definitely. Prior to working in land based education I was aware of the importance that Indigenous people have always placed on this form of education, but experiencing it was something completely different. I have been taught that Indigenous people are related to and are made from our territories and this was evident throughout my experiences this past summer. The youth this summer all connected with what they were learning at a higher level because they were seeing themselves represented in the land and it was beautiful to be a part of.
Jennifer: What are your personal thoughts on the key differences on students between classroom and land based learning experiences?
Ethan: I think the main difference that I saw between teaching in the classroom and teaching on the land is the community embodiment that took place on the land. In a classroom the only time students are asked to work communally is in terms of behaviour and classroom management. Whereas in land based education, every person at the camp, whether they be instructors, students, chaperones, organizers, chefs, etc. everyone had a role that was integral to the functioning of our camp. This not only fostered a strong sense of community, it also allowed every individual at the camp to feel responsible for something and needed, everyone took agency for themselves.
Jennifer: Do you feel you have become a better educator as a result of your InSTEM instructor experience?
Ethan: I most definitely feel that I have become a better educator as a result of my InSTEM instructor experience. I have spent some time teaching within the Ontario school systems so I thankfully had some experience. This summer however taught me how to care for and get to know our students in ways that I had not had to before. I learned a lot about group dynamics and management, I learned about communal leadership, and I definitely gained problem solving skills!
Jennifer: What’s the one greatest thing you can take away from this experience?
Ethan: I think the greatest thing that I can take away from this experience as an InSTEM instructor is the knowledge that we are having a positive impact on Indigenous youth and their ideas of education. For hundreds of years education has been used by the colonial state to oppress Indigenous people and I strongly feel that today’s education systems are not designed to truly support any youth, but especially not Indigenous youth. So to see all of these Indigenous people coming together to form a community around educating Indigenous youth and giving them a positive experience in which they are on the land and learning the ways of their ancestors was truly an unbelievable experience that I will never forget.
For inquiries about our for-credit InSTEM program, please contact us.