In Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, learning about the Gwich’in way of harvesting fish is part of Actua’s northern for-credit land camp program
In Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, learning about the Gwich’in way of harvesting fish is part of Actua’s northern for-credit land camp program. © ACTUA

It’s no secret that the Indigenous classroom has always been on the land. So, when Doug Dokis set out to move the dial on Indigenous high school graduation rates, he built a program that blends land-based learning with Western science.

Doug is Anishnabe from Dokis First Nation and the Director of Actua’s community-based science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education outreach program for Indigenous youth.

Last summer Actua worked with teachers, community members, Elders, and the Beaufort Delta Education Council to transform a traditional on-the-land harvesting camp into a for-credit STEM camp in Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories. Students from Inuvik, Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk, and Fort McPherson came together for a 10-day fishing camp.

“They got to learn about the Gwich’in way of harvesting fish, of taking care of the land, of giving back to the land, and our beliefs and customs,” explains Shirley Peterson, Principal, Chief Julius School, Fort McPherson. “These are things we’ve done for hundreds and hundreds of years, and our students are continuing to learn today.”

The students discovered that the experiences led by their Elders had the same learning outcomes as those required by their courses in school and the land-based learning experiences would earn them credit towards their high school diploma.

Taking the experience one step further, Actua’s instructors, Indigenous undergraduate students, led additional STEM activities designed to inspire students to value their unique Indigenous perspectives.

For example, “During an activity related to wind energy and the environment, the students were tasked with designing the most efficient wind turbine blades. A couple of students made blades that resembled a bird’s feather. The students explained that if the shape worked for birds to fly, then it would probably work for other designs, including the blade of a wind turbine.”

Norma Snowshoe, teacher, speaks of the value. “These are true credits. It’s not sitting at the desk from nine to four. They work hard, and it is important that they get the credit for what they learn. I would really like to see that Actua continues working with our people up North. I just want to see more.”

Actua’s northern for-credit land camp program is supported by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre, Suncor Energy Foundation and Imperial as a promising practice for building essential employability skills and preparing northern youth for the future of work. Since the first pilot of Actua’s for-credit InSTEM program in 2017, 270 Indigenous students have received 430 credits toward their high school diploma in four provinces and territories across Canada.

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Leslie Cuthbertson is Chief Operating Officer at Actua.