Aki Kikinomakaywin: opportunities in STEM for First Nation youth in northern Ontario

(Photo credit: Aki Kikinomakaywin)

Born out of the NORDIK Institute in Sault Ste. Marie, Aki Kikinomakaywin (formerly titled Indigenous Youth Environmental Monitoring Initiative [IYEMI]) supports the First Nation youth of northern Ontario in gaining confidence in accessing postsecondary education opportunities in STEM fields. The program combines Indigenous teachings with western science through a Two-Eyed Seeing Indigenous Impact Assessment framework. Students are invited to participate in a one-week on-campus experience, working in a lab and on the land through hands-on activities, with a focus on Indigenous language exposure. Participants are surrounded by Indigenous Knowledge Holders and Elders throughout the experience and can form connections with other northern youth through ceremony and camaraderie. Students leave the program with STEM career awareness, knowledge of postsecondary institution programs and knowledge of Indigenous supports available to them.

As a female-led initiative, Aki Kikinomakaywin provides a different perspective from similar programs. Co-leads Haley MacLeod and Susan Chiblow have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to strengthening equity for Indigenous Peoples in society. To ensure Aki Kikinomakaywin meets the needs of its community, MacLeod and Chiblow formed an Indigenous advisory group, which plays a pivotal role in the development and approval of all aspects of the program. The group is comprised of female Indigenous Elders, students and education workers who have demonstrated success in their own positions, guiding the project in developing shared goals, outcomes and processes.

With the help of an NSERC PromoScience award, Aki Kikinomakaywin will have the ability to reach more students while supporting reconciliation efforts through the application of cultural practices in STEM, encouraging stronger connections to the land.

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Dr. Wolbring is a tenured full professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine in the community rehabilitation and disability studies program, who initially trained as a biochemist.

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