Students learn science in traditional setting

Students learn science in traditional setting
A youth/elder camp for Fort Chipewyan students combined traditional knowledge with Western environmental science.Photo: University of Manitoba.

Traditional Aboriginal knowledge and modern science were combined in a learning experience at a youth/elder camp last week in northern Alberta.

The day camps were designed to give Fort Chipewyan youth a taste of environmental science while providing the opportunity to learn from elders about fishing and traditional medicines. The youth/elder camp was the brainchild of Bruce Maclean, research coordinator for Mikisew Cree First Nation Government and Industry Relations.

“We put on a camp for all the kids in Fort Chip’s school as an idea we’ve had to teach kids in a traditional setting about environmental science from a traditional knowledge perspective and a Western science perspective,” Maclean said.

The camp ran June 5-7 at Dog Camp at Quatre Fourches, a short distance from Fort Chipewyan by river. During the first two days, different groups of youth (high school and then Grades 4-8) were taken to the camp by boat. They spent half the day with elders learning fishing techniques and setting nets, while the elders talked to them about industry’s impact on local land, telling stories and learning about traditional medicines and plants.

The other half of the day was spent with environmental scientists from the Universities of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Technical Services of Alberta (TSAG) and Parks Canada learning about water quality monitoring, vegetation surveys, fish science and geocaching.

The last day of the program was held at Athabasca Delta Community School for Grade 3 students. They were treated to a 20-minute video shot during the previous two days, showing activities the older students participated in. Overall, more than 100 students were immersed in the program.

“At the end of the day, the whole concept was to do something for them and the community. If that was the goal, it was bang on, an awesome success,” Maclean said.

Maclean said part of his purpose in developing the program was to provide Northern students with the level of science and math education students in southern Canada are accustomed to.

Response to the youth/elder camp was good, Maclean said, noting he plans to make it an annual program, possibly expanded to include students from other communities.

“It’s about the kids. They have a chance to see what’s out there in terms of science and what kind of careers are out there in science, in environmental science, and learn about the culture of the region and access to land and exerting their traditional rights to hunt, trap and fish,” Maclean said.

Students graduating from high school who would like to learn more about environmental science will have the opportunity to take a five-week course in the fall that Maclean said will train them in community water monitoring. He has jobs waiting for those who complete the program successfully. So far, three students have indicated interest in the program.

The community water monitoring program is still in the planning stages. Maclean said it will be held either at Keyano College or Aurora College. He has not yet selected an instructor.

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