Earning credits on the land

InSTEM program will earn youth high school marks while they gain traditional knowledge


Students in the NWT will soon be able to earn science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) high school credits while gaining on-the-land skills.

Participants in a recent Actua workshop in Aklavik learn to make “scribble bots,” which are small robots with art supplies for legs. The robots are set on a piece of paper so that they move about and scribble. Photo courtesy of Actua

Actua, a non-profit that’s been around for 25 years, has a mandate to reach out to youth living in remote communities and introduce them to STEM, as well as girls, who are underrepresented in STEM fields.

InSTEM has been part of Actua from the very beginning as far as their outreach into say, underserved communities and in particular Indigenous communities,” says Doug Dokis, the director for the InSTEM program.

Dokis says the program has historically been delivered through short events such as daycamps, but Actua has been working to deepen the program through credit-earning summer courses held out on the land.

Its aim today is to help boost high school graduation rates for Indigenous youth while exposing them to possible careers in STEM fields, and rooting teaching in land-based activity.

We show them that Indigenous communities and Indigenous knowledges have always known about stem … just from a different perspective,” says Dokis.

All of those high-level things that we learn—math, geometry, engineering, astronomy—all of that knowledge exists now and always has within indigenous communities.”

Two Aklavik students work on little robots during a recent Actua workshop. Photo courtesy of Actua

For example, groups might harvest fish while learning about water management science and fish biology.

Another one would be engineering. We build a birchbark canoe and then apply engineering activities like bridge-building, structures and tension, those kinds of things,” says Dokis.

Actua has been operating in the North, holding workshops and daycamps in 47 communities throughout all three territories.

It recently got a federal grant that has allowed it to bring its programming up on a more permanent basis.

We don’t want to be in a position where we go in and we do this fantastic program for one year and the community and kids love it, they benefit from it, but then we’re not able to continue it on,” he says.

The federal Future Skills grant will allow them to continue this program for the foreseeable future, he says.

The next steps are to work with the GNWT, regional education authorities and schools to determine, collaboratively, how each InSTEM program will work—both what traditional practices will be focussed on and how it will fit into curriculum.

Beaufort Delta Education Council superintendent Frank Galway says the council has a good working relationship with Actua and was excited to see it acquire the funding.

[These will be] experiences that let the students know that school and the land go together,” says Galway.

They’re not mutually exclusive. They are part and parcel of how we are trying to teach kids and Indigenize education.”

He says Actua and the council are looking at getting this program going in Inuvik, then expand it outwards throughout the region. Actua intends to hold this program throughout the whole territory.

We already have something similar happening in Fort McPherson,” said Galway.

This summer we had fish camps going on, and the University of Calgary is involved with that one. There is a local person from Fort McPherson who is working in that university who is actually coming up and they working very collaboratively with [the school].”

He says the council is looking at ways to tie that into school curriculum as well.

There is a significant appetite for that type of learning to occur.”