Tuesday, 9 October 2012


During the summer, I had the opportunity to interview students participating in the National Summer Science Camp for First Nations and Inuit youth at the University of Manitoba.

The students were from various Aboriginal communities across Canada and the camp, an annual event, takes place in a different province every year. The purpose is to inspire an interest in science among Aboriginal youth.

I remember thinking the initiative was cool because it gives Aboriginal youth the opportunity to compare and contrast, through real experience, traditional and non-traditional medicine, thus presenting Aboriginal ways of healing and non-Aboriginal ways of healing as equally important.

“I want to study Aboriginal medicines,” Haylee Garson, a 14-year-old from Fisher River First Nation told me when I talked to her in August.

That alone made the program seem amazing to me since if nothing else, it had one Aboriginal youth not only talking about going to university (according to the provincial government website, Aboriginal high school graduates are more likely to attend community college or other forms of non-university post secondary education), but also about studying an integral element of her own Aboriginal culture - a tiny step towards re-awakening a culture left destroyed by the cultural genocide that took place within the walls of residential schools.

Another sweet thing about the camp was that it aimed to provide the youth with a chance to experience post-secondary education as realistically as possible. This includes staying in a dorm (or, as manager of integrated programs at the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre Rudy Subedar pointed out to me, a hotel). I didn’t realize it at the time but dorm life is a huge barrier to Aboriginal people who want to pursue post-secondary education.

A challenge that may not be entirely unique to Aboriginal people, but undoubtedly affects their shot at a post-secondary education in a university setting, is the financial burden brought upon by living in rez. More than that, however, if someone is coming from a remote community and leaving behind the lifestyle and people they’ve always known, it becomes very difficult to succeed academically. The issue lies in the fact that Aboriginal people who come from remote communities lose the support they’ve relied on their entire lives.

Brenda Small, Dean of the Negahneewin College at Confederation College in Thunder Bay gives perspective on the challenges faced by Aboriginal Canadians when attempting to pursue post-secondary education in a university setting in the following video, (at 9:15):

(By the way, check out 5:45 where Mimi Gellman talks about Jewish Aboriginals in Canada and the United States... I’ve never met someone of this mix but it’s cool to know they exist). 

With this knowledge, when I look back to my interview with students who were participating in the National Summer Science Camp for First Nations and Inuit youth, I am pleased to see these challenges were obviously considered when the program was designed. I remember Hunter Francis, a 14-year-old from Eel Ground First Nation in New Brunswick. He told me all about the wicked food he and the other students got to eat, and how much fun he was having with all the new friends he was making.

“Man, like, this camp is something else,” he said to me.

I am happy to see things like this program happening in my own province and around Canada, especially after visiting the Robert Houle exhibit last week and getting a glimpse into the dark and horrible things that have happened to Aboriginal people throughout Canadian history.

Not that the sexual abuse, torture, smothering of a culture, and all the other things that I will never understand or even pretend to can be reversed, but at least programs like this create hope for an educated and positive life for Aboriginal youth and the chance for Aboriginals and Non-Aboriginals to have an equal shot at an education in the future.

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