The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Gathering of Indigenous STEM students builds kinship across the country

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Two event participants have a conversation at the Canadian Light Source booth during the .caISES conference at the University of Saskatchewan on Feb. 29, 2020. | Riley Deacon

The third annual Canadian Indigenous Science and Engi­neering Society gathering was an opportunity for Indigenous students in STEM programs to create meaningful relationships with industry professionals and showcase their own research.

The University of Saskatche­wan’s .caISES chapter was found­ed last year by Micheala Merasty and Julia Doucette-Garr, who are currently co-presidents of the student group. The pair had the idea to start the group after attending the 2018 .caISES con­ference in Calgary.

Merasty says the Saskatoon conference was an amazing ex­perience because of the relation­ships that it fostered.

“Every time I’ve been to a .caISES conference, you can feel the kinship that is built over a short weekend, and so by the end of this it feels like we’re a family,” Merasty said.

The three-day gathering sold all of its 170 tickets and was the largest Canadian .caISES event yet. This year’s theme focused on how sustainability relates to land, water, energy and engag­ing Indigenous youth in STEM.

Representation was another concept discussed through­out the conference, and how connecting Indigenous STEM students with professional mentors increases access and equity across the disciplines.

When Merasty began her studies, she felt that as an In­digenous mother, she was the “polar opposite” of who the colonial education system was built for; she thought she would be alone on her journey. Merasty says that experiencing a room filled with Indigenous STEM scholars and profes­sionals at .caISES events can be very encouraging.

“Having these people who work in areas where we don’t have a lot of representation and just being able to see them, it builds that excitement that we are Indigenous and we can do anything we want,” Merasty said.

Throughout the event, edu­cational sessions were held on a range of topics from outreach education initiatives for teach­ing math and science in First Nation schools to strategies for diversifying the STEM commu­nity through traditional Indige­nous ways of knowing.

The conference also show­cased students’ research. Mer­asty, who took part in a student panel presenting on health and resiliency, says that when USask .caISES did a call for abstracts, they were able to accept all of the applications.

“We gave them that space to show us their work and it was amazing,” Merasty said.

A number of industry pro­fessionals were also in atten­dance, many of which had over 20 years of experience within mining or other major indus­tries. Many expressed their ex­citement at seeing the changes being made at a societal level to continue diversifying the STEM community.

As Merasty is near to complet­ing her degree in environmental biology, she is now making sure the .caISES chapter goes on af­ter she graduates. She is focused ratifying the group with the stu­dent’s union and making plans for the group’s future.

“We also want to start doing more programming; a lot of [ef­fort] has been focused on get­ting people to conferences and planning conferences,” Merasty said.

“But now that we’ve jumped over this big accomplishment, we really need to settle down and connect with each other in the ways that we’ve been talking about over this week­end.”

Sandy Bonny, the College of Arts and Science’s team leader for the Indigenous Stu­dent Achievement Pathways and STEM Access Initiatives, says that hosting the nation­al conference a year after the creation of the USask .caISES chapter is like “a dream be­coming a reality.”

“Saskatchewan has a large Indigenous population and there are a lot of gatherings around culture… Those are a really vital part of Saskatoon’s cultural fabric, but often what we’ve heard students here say is that even when they find those places of belonging they’re often the only STEM person,” Bonny said.

“So this is a really unique forum where people can connect as members of trea­ty communities but also as STEM professionals. The peo­ple here are often minorities in multiple worlds so bring­ing them together is really powerful.”

Noah Callaghan/ Staff Writer

Photo: Riley Deacon

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