Actua’s land-based camps help Indigenous youth combine cultural connections, meaningful education
Submitted by Enbridge Inc.
“Indigenous people have always known about STEM.”
Learning on the land through observation, storytelling, direct participation and through ceremony has always been the way of teaching in Indigenous communities. Finding a way to align this local knowledge with modern-day STEM teachings is exactly the aim of the Indigenous Youth in STEM Program (InSTEM) from Actua.
The program started over a decade ago as Canada’s first national program dedicated to breaking down educational barriers to Inuit, Metis and First Nations youth.
During the summer in host First Nations communities, the programming is two-fold. High school land camps provide immersive opportunities for students, and community-based, week-long camps for youth in Grades 1 through 6 are led by undergraduate instructors who also teach about relevant STEM topics. Experiences range from learning about the significance of canoes in Indigenous culture to sustainable fashion exploration.
And the best part about the camps? They’re for school credit.
“Adding in the for-school-credit component is a way of not only addressing the cultural needs of community but also achieving positive educational outcomes,” says Doug Dokis, cultural advisor and former Director for the national InSTEM program. “It all contributes to the overarching goal of affecting systemic change.”
With more than 40 years of experience, Dokis has made the development and delivery of programs for Indigenous youth a lifelong career, spending 12 of those years with Actua and leading the development of the InSTEM program.
“All too often, these programs are short term,” says Dokis. “Our programs are designed to create long-term change that address gaps of economic, social, historical and cultural nature.”
Each year, 35,000 students from more than 200 Indigenous communities across the country participate in these face-to-face learning opportunities.
Enbridge is committed to fostering sustainable communities where we work and live. In 2023, a $100,000 Fueling Futures grant from Enbridge directly supports five of Actua’s for-school-credit learning camps, while an identical $100,000 Fueling Futures grant has been directed to Actua’s Cyber Smart Education program, continuing a partnership that began in 2021.
Enbridge also supported the development and distribution of at-home cultural STEM kits during the height of the pandemic, now a permanent fixture in the InSTEM program that Dokis says have become a “mainstay.”
Beyond the camps, Actua is committed to unlocking Indigenous youths’ potential in all sorts of skill development and knowledge building. From children’s workshops to in-school programs and post-secondary engagement, Dokis says it isn’t uncommon to cross paths with former program participants who are now Actua instructors or working in the industry.
“I meet many people who say that the camps and programming changed their whole life,” says Dokis. “I see them speaking at conferences or working at major corporations sitting across the table from me.”
He adds: “The outcomes of these camps are not necessarily just the school credit, but also the immense impact on Indigenous youth to increase their self-awareness and to continue moving forward with confidence in their lives.”
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