Northwest Territories educators are working to better include Indigenous knowledge in Canadian science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning.
Actua – a STEM outreach organization focused on youth – recently held a series of nationwide roundtables on Indigenous STEM education.
The group argues Indigenous youth are underrepresented in these fields because they lack exposure to educational and career opportunities. Actua believes land-based education has proven effective at engaging Indigenous students.
The NWTs Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning has been delivering land-based education in the North for the past decade. Executive director Kelsey Wrightson was part of Actua’s NWT roundtable.
“It was a great opportunity to hear what some of the different barriers are for different kinds of programs,” she told Cabin Radio.
Wrightson said institutional barriers to land-based education can include the absence of regular core funding, funding cycles that make money available at times when you’re not able to go out on the land, and insurance challenges.
One of the biggest barriers, she said, is the time it takes to properly develop land-based programming.
“The best land-based programs really involve and reflect the strengths of the Indigenous communities that we’re partnering with and working with,” she said. “That usually takes a really long time, to develop the relationships to be able to create a program that does that.”
At the roundtable, educators said students participating in land-based programs were more successful back in the classroom, too.
“A land-based program can really help support student success in other areas, especially in K to 12,” Wrightson said.
According to the Future Skills Centre – part of the federal government’s Future Skills program– while four percent of Canada’s population is Indigenous, they represent less than two percent of people working in STEM.
Actua hopes to change that by developing an action plan to implement land-based knowledge in Canada’s education systems. It also runs a national Indigenous Youth in STEM program that includes school workshops and summer camps.
Wrightson said traditional Indigenous and land-based knowledge hasn’t been valued as much as western knowledge in STEM because of the ongoing legacy of residential schools and colonization.
“Systemic racism has devalued Indigenous knowledge since colonization,” she said. “I think education systems are still grappling with that legacy, and are still working hard, and have a lot of work to do to better reflect the values of traditional knowledge and Indigenous knowledge in education systems today.”