In June, we celebrate National Indigenous History Month. This is an opportunity for all Canadians to celebrate the unique heritage and contributions of Indigenous peoples across the country.
That’s why we want to share some amazing Indigenous individuals working in the STEM fields and the amazing work that they are doing!
Dr. Caron was the first Indigenous woman to graduate from the University of British Columbia’s medical school. Following her education, she became Canada’s first female First Nations general surgeon. Caron’s primary areas of interest as a physician, researcher, and health advocate include access to equal health status, health care services and the research that leads to these for marginalized populations – including Aboriginal, northern, and rural communities. Dr. Caron also serves as the Director for UBC’s Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health, which aims to optimize health science curriculum, student supports and health research through an Indigenous lens .
Researcher Chelsea Benally is the first Indigenous woman to have graduated with an engineering PhD from the University of Alberta. Her passion for environmental restoration led her to researching the treatment of tailings waters, specifically through creating membranes and other absorption materials that can filter toxins from water. Dr. Benally finds her work in using engineering to solve human-created issues through oilsand remediation incredibly rewarding .
Professor Deborah McGregor, who is Anishinaabe from Whitefish River First Nation, Birch Island, ON, is a faculty member at York University. Cross-appointed to the Osgoode Hall Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Environmental Studies & Urban Change, her research focuses on Indigenous knowledge systems and how they can be applied in the areas of water and environmental governance, environmental justice, forest policy and management, and sustainable development .
Gwen Healey Akearok
Dr. Gwen Healey Akearok is a trained epidemiologist, having earned her Master’s degree in Epidemiology & Community Health Sciences from the University of Calgary, and her PhD in Public Health at the University of Toronto. Born and raised in Iqaluit, Nunavut, she co-founded the Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre in her community. This non-profit, community-led research center aims to enable community wellness research to be conducted locally by northerners in a safe, supportive and culturally-sensitive manner. The institute promotes the inclusion of Inuit and Western ways of knowing and doing in addressing health concerns and creating a healthy community  .
These scientists have been able to make amazing contributions in the world of STEM, but the fact remains that our school science curriculums still often fail to capture and incorporate Indigenous perspectives. Indigenous communities have developed a repository of knowledge of the natural world, through hundreds of years of observation. However, this acquisition of knowledge through direct experiences with nature are still being disregarded .
This is problematic, not only because we are missing out on a vast amount of knowledge, but because Western teaching practices may fail to reach students from Indigenous communities. According to the 2016 census, even though Indigenous people make up 4% of all Canadian adults, they make up less than 2% of people working in STEM occupations . As the demand for STEM professionals continues to increase, and we must equip all students to be able to participate in this future fully.
In order to engage Indigenous students, we must create culturally-relevant STEM connections and learning opportunities. Studies have shown that when educators use a culturally-responsive curriculum, where Indigenous ways of knowing are bridged with Western approaches to science – Indigenous students are more engaged and perform better . We must also address the systemic barriers that prevent Indigenous learners from entering STEM careers, many of which are related to social inequalities – this includes low expectations of teachers, being in the care of the justice system, or attending remote schools. We also need to ensure that protective factors are in place in our education system. These include community supports (such as Elders-in-residence on school campuses), positive Indigenous role models, and inspiring teachers that equip Indigenous students with the confidence to thrive as learners.
At STEM Minds, we are strong advocates for a culturally-responsive STEM curriculum, and look forward to working with educators, parents, and students to create inclusive learning environments and ensure that all students across Canada can participate fully in the world of STEM and work towards the futures they envision.
|||“Nadine R. Caron, BSc MD MPh FRCSC,” Universty of British Columbia – Faculty of Medicine, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://surgery.med.ubc.ca/people/ncaron/. [Accessed 19 June 2021].|
|||“First Indigenous woman to earn engineering PhD at U of A aims talents at tailings ponds,” CBC News, 26 November 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/chelsea-benally-alberta-oilsands-indigenous-1.4920703. [Accessed 2021 June 2021].|
|||“Deborah McGregor,” York University – Osgoode Hall Law School, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.osgoode.yorku.ca/faculty-and-staff/mcgregor-deborah/. [Accessed 19 June 2021].|
|||“Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre – About Us,” Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.qhrc.ca/. [Accessed 19 June 2021].|
|||E. Tranter, “Nunavut organizations receive $3.5 million for community-led research,” Nunatsiaq News, 17 June 2020. [Online]. Available: https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/nunavut-organizations-receive-3-5-million-for-community-led-research/. [Accessed 19 June 2021].|
|||“Making science relevant to Indigenous students,” Indigenous Corporate Training – Blog, 26 March 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/making-science-relevant-to-indigenous-students. [Accessed 16 June 2021].|
|||Future Skills Centre, “Incorporating Indigenous Cultures and Realities in STEM,” The Conference Board Canada, 2020.|