Empowering Indigenous Voices in STEM

Where are all the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit engineers? An additional 5,620 Indigenous engineers are needed for the engineering profession in Canada to include a representative number of Indigenous people, according to a 2019 report by Engineers Canada. In fact, Indigenous scientists are under-represented in all disciplines related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

Dr. Dennis Michaelson

What are the implications of the shortage of Indigenous engineers and scientists in Canada? According to Dr. Dennis Michaelson, a Métis-Cree electrical and computer engineer at Western University, Indigenous perspectives are missing in conversations in STEM.

During a recent presentation at the annual Universities Canada Building Reconciliation Forum Dr. Michaelson noted, “Indigenous philosophy is often interpreted as anti-technological, which is not correct.” Indigenous science and technology are as pragmatic and responsive as any science, and they are grounded in worldviews that center Indigenous concepts and values, like the inter-relatedness of all things and responsibility to the seven generations.

To help increase access for Indigenous students seeking post-secondary education in STEM disciplines, several institutions are finding ways to indigenize engineering programs and support access for Indigenous students. Many students experience uncertainty in their transition from high school to university, and this transition is even more complex for Indigenous learners moving into STEM programs. Indigenous STEM access programs, such as the Engineering Access Program (ENGAP) at the University of Manitoba, are effective in increasing Indigenous inclusion in STEM.

Dr. Jesse Popp

Another necessary approach is creating culturally relevant programs, such as the University of Guelph’s Bachelor of Indigenous Environmental Science and Practice that blends Indigenous and non-Indigenous methodologies and worldviews. Finally, recruiting and supporting Indigenous science scholars helps ensure that there are role models and mentors for incoming Indigenous students, as argued by University of Guelph Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Environmental Science Dr. Jesse Popp here.

To close, I encourage you to remember that, as Engineering Canada puts it:

Although the ethical imperative to promote Indigenous peoples’ access to post-secondary engineering may be clear, what should also come to light is that diversity is key to achieving advances in engineering and applied science. When we speak about making a Canadian economy that is a worldwide leader in innovation, we must not forget that by investing in Indigenous peoples’ access to engineering, we invest in our collective future. 

For additional information, feedback, or questions, please contact Joanne Garcia-Moores at jmoores@uoguelph.ca.