June 16, 2021

Project bridges science and culture for Stoney Nakoda youth

UCalgary team aims to use grant funding to bring together scientific and traditional knowledge in the Alberta Rockies
UCalgary staff work with students from Exshaw school.
UCalgary staff work with students from Exshaw school. Briana Van Den Bussche

Something exciting is being built in the mountains west of Calgary: a bridge to bring together science and culture for First Nations youth.

The Bridging Science and Culture for Stoney Nakoda Youth project, headed by Dr. Edward Johnson, PhD, professor emeritus in the Faculty of Science, and Sue Arlidge of the Biogeoscience Institute (BGI), was recently awarded a National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) PromoScience grant.

The aim of this project is to build upon existing relationships with the Wesley, Bearspaw and Chiniki bands and the Stoney Education Authority, to help address the Nation’s need for an accessible and culturally connected understanding of natural sciences. Johnson is an expert in the field of forest ecology, while Arlidge has worked with the BGI’s education programs for over two decades, and has experience teaching and leading youth in the community.

Johnson and Arlidge are joined by three Indigenous summer interns, Tessa Wolfleg, Savannah Poirier Hollander and Tessa Breaker, as well as BGI education leader Briana Van Den Bussche. Breaker recently completed her first year in the NITEP, Indigenous Teacher Education Program at the University of British Columbia. Poirier Hollander is a recent graduate of the Werklund School of Education, and previously worked with the Biogeoscience Institute as a school program leader, and a Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) student. Wolfleg is a current UCalgary student in the International Indigenous Relations undergraduate program, and worked with Poirier Hollander last year on a project to identify native plants and their traditional uses.

This year, Wolfleg is excited to join the PromoScience project as a part of the Indigenous Student Summer Program (ISSP), a collaboration between Community Futures Treaty 7, the Rupertsland Institute, and the University of Calgary.

"This project can build community and is important for keeping traditions alive, and to help students find meaning in school," says Wolfleg.

Although COVID-19 has significantly impacted how some of the project programming may look, the team is excited to be able to start providing socially distanced and virtual opportunities for youth to share land-based learning experiences with elders, knowledge keepers, and scientists to collectively broaden understandings of science and culture.

Some of the initial projects that are taking shape include partnering with the Nakoda Youth Council to plan and facilitate a birding workshop, a Stoney language interpretive project, and fireside chats with elders, knowledge keepers and scientists. Inquiry and exploration projects are also underway with the Exshaw School.

This spring and summer, the focus is to build relationships and facilitate land-based experiences, which will lay the foundation to start bridging science and culture curriculum connections in the classroom in the fall. Overall, the project has four main goals:

  • to increase literacy in science within a cultural context
  • to help provide and develop Indigenous mentors and teachers who will work with students to promote careers and skills in science
  • to create a greater learning community
  • to explore STEM technologies 

The project team hopes to be able to work toward these goals through a variety of partnerships and initiatives over multiple years to build community programs which will become self-sustaining.

"The ultimate goal of the project is to be able to work toward these goals with other community groups. We want to help build frameworks and create opportunities for programs where we can step back and let the community lead," says Sue Arlidge.

Bridging Science and Culture for Stoney Nakoda Youth is one of two UCalgary recipients of NSERC PromoScience funding. Dr. Mohammad Moshirpour, PhD, in the Schulich School of Engineering has also been awarded funding for his project Schulich Ignite: Empowering Canada's Youth through a Digital Literacy and Adaptive Learning Framework.