Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

May 18, 2005

Aboriginal Students to Learn About Science, Dreams, Heritage at U of G

Grade 8 students from a remote fly-in Ojibwa reserve in northern Ontario are coming to the University of Guelph May 25 to 27 to take part in S@GE, the University’s popular three-day science camp. This is the first time most of the students have been to southern Ontario and the first field trip their school has taken this far south in almost 15 years.

The students attend Eenchokay Birchstick School in the community of Pikangikum, located in the middle of the Berens River, 250 kilometres north of Dryden. The only way to leave the reserve is by plane or via the winter road that runs across the frozen waterway for a couple of months each year.

At S@GE, they will learn about chemistry, veterinary science and the geography of natural disasters, and will take part in a learning module that examines the physics of sound through the use of aboriginal drumming. The aboriginal science component will be taught by this year’s S@GE celebrity, Cara Ann Wehkamp, a Guelph PhD student of Algonquin heritage who spearheaded U of G’s first Aboriginal Student Association and was chosen as one of Canada’s 12 national aboriginal role models, and Jaime Mishibinijima, a PhD student of Cree Métis heritage who is the student adviser at the Aboriginal Resource Centre.

“We had decided that it was important to add a new module to the program that reflected different perspectives in science and also reflected the cultural diversity of Canadians,” said Gillian Joseph, a program development manager in the Office of Open Learning, who works with faculty to develop the camp’s learning modules.

Jane Havey, the teacher who organized the northern school’s participation and will accompany the students from Pikangikum, believes her class will benefit from seeing that First Nations people can obtain a great education and will come to believe that they can too. “A lot of these kids tend not to have hope that they can accomplish that, so to see their own people in that sort of academic setting is great for them,” she said.

Havey adds that the camp will also give the students a chance to learn about the possibilities that exist for them outside of Pikangikum and an opportunity to meet and socialize with other children their age. “Because it’s remote here, they don’t see other kids other than their relatives who might come from other reserves,” she said. “Most of them don’t get to leave the reserve very often.”

Wehkamp said it’s important for everyone to see aboriginal people in leadership roles and high-profile positions because most non-aboriginal students learn about aboriginal people from a historical perspective. “I want them to know that aboriginal people still exist, we aren’t just historical figures, and we’re very similar to them.”

She has worked extensively with aboriginal youth and says the trip from Pikangikum will be an exciting one for the students.

“They live in a fly-in reserve, so it’s not like they can drive to the city whenever they like. They’re really isolated, so this will be a very different experience for them. I hope they realize that they can come to university, that they can leave the reserve to pursue their dreams and that education is extremely important. There’s no reason why they can’t live their dreams and maintain their cultural heritage.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, Ext. 56982.

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