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PromoScience award supports successful initiative

Interns with their Elders (Image source: Edward Johnson)

The University of Calgary’s Edward Johnson and Sue Arlidge have a long history of research and STEM education in the Stoney Nakoda Nation territory, in the mountains west of Calgary. They’ve combined Arlidge’s 30 years of science field experience and wilderness training with Johnson’s 40 years of biogeoscience research and experiential education to create Bridging Science and Culture for Stoney Nakoda Youth — an initiative committed to increasing access to hands-on, culturally sensitive programming in the natural sciences.

After being awarded an NSERC PromoScience award in 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Johnson and Arlidge to reassess the scope of their program to provide a blend of online and in-person activities. They used the opportunity to hire and train three Indigenous staff, two summer interns, and the leader of the Nakoda Youth Council to work within the community and co-develop a variety of science and cultural activities. 

Bridging Science and Culture for Stoney Nakoda Youth completed an impressive list of programs by the end of their first year of funding, including: managing and growing a full production greenhouse with students and volunteers; co-presenting workshops on the science behind hide skinning, tanning and the evolution of skinning technologies; and the science involved in making bows, arrows, and drums. These workshops were facilitated in collaboration with the Nakoda Youth Council, local Elders and Telus Spark. They also hosted a series of events for youth to join Indigenous mentors in field activities such as canoeing, fishing, rock climbing and on a Lake Minnewanka boat tour to hear stories and teachings about water, wildlife, and climate change.

Working in the schools, Johnson and Arlidge’s team has continued to build a strong working relationship among the youth, teachers, Knowledge Keepers and Elders, in order to build a sustainable program. Elders have emphasized that outreach programs need to run for several years to establish strong roots in the community for the long haul.