Equity and inclusivity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education is vital to its growth and the continued development of our society; however, there is a lack of diversity in STEM due to lack of opportunities and representation. For example, according to the Conference Board of Canada, Indigenous people make up approximately 4% of adults in Canada, but less than 2% of people working in STEM occupations are Indigenous.
The Canadian Light Source (CLS) Education Team is working to close this gap in Canada by evolving their approach to their education programs, building stronger relationships with Indigenous communities, fusing Indigenous perspectives and Traditional Knowledge with mainstream science and seizing the opportunity to change who sees themselves in STEM.
“I believe we're in a period in our history of an Indigenous renaissance with Indigenous leaders in all facets of society,” said Dallas Pelly, CLS Education Coordinator - Indigenous Programs. “If CLS can be the forerunner in the STEM space to allow students that opportunity to see themselves in science, we can have a big impact.”
CLS is a world-class national research institute home to Canada’s only synchrotron – a type of cyclic particle accelerator that produces different kinds of light in order to study the structural and chemical properties of materials at the molecular level. CLS Education has been a pioneer in Indigenous outreach and over the last three years specifically has grounded its principles in reconciliation and evolved to a more collaborative approach steeped in relationship building and Indigenous perspectives.
“The biggest way we’re innovating is that we’re flipping the script,” said Tracy Walker, CLS Education Programs Lead. “Instead of having programs we’ve created and inviting communities to them, we’ve started building relationships with communities first to provide an Indigenous perspective and then inviting synchrotron science into it.”
This approach is built on the educational concept Etuaptmumk, which is a Mi’kmaq word meaning Two-Eyed Seeing. It refers to viewing the world through Indigenous ways of knowing with one eye and viewing with a Western lens through the other.
“At CLS, we don’t want to use Western science to confirm what is already in our Indigenous worldview,” said Pelly. “As Indigenous people, we are scientists and innovators who sought out solutions for problems that existed for time immemorial. What this work requires is for us to look through these two lenses where both perspectives are valuable and one doesn't trump the other.”
This approach has revolutionized the entire education program to create space for different perspectives and also culminated in three Indigenous-focused education projects: the Bison Project, the Berry Project and the Arctic Fox Project. While still in their beginning stages, these projects have generated a tremendous response from teachers excited to build connections and understand the program opportunities.
CLS Education welcomed its first group for the Bison Project from Carry the Kettle Nakota Nation on September 30, 2022, recognized as Orange Shirt Day. Students, teachers and Elders brought bison hair and soil samples to be studied in the synchrotron to explore their questions related to bison herd dynamics, diets and more to expand upon their community’s Traditional Knowledge.
“Students were learning Nakota language from their Elders at the same time they were learning synchrotron language – lots of new words in both worlds,” said Walker. “It was very powerful and it's the epitome of what we’re hoping for.”
The experience seemed to result in what both educators would describe as the “lightbulb moment” – a transformative moment of recognition, understanding or inspiration for a student. This transformational process is what drives and excites both educators about the future of CLS Education and they hope it will also encourage other large-scale science institutions to take authentic steps towards reconciliation and create more opportunities for people in STEM with this Two-Eyed Seeing approach.
“Before, I didn’t see myself in this space. But as I’ve learned, I’ve become more comfortable and have seen that there are knowledges that exist in me from connections with my ancestors,” said Pelly. “If we can change the trajectory of even one student and make them more comfortable in STEM, we’re going to create system change.”
CLS is a national research facility of the University of Saskatchewan and one of the largest science projects in Canada’s history. Innovation Saskatchewan is proud to fund CLS as one of our funded program partners.