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Ohneganos Virtual Reality Project: Journey Down the Grand River (Ohneganos)

Inaugural Indigenous Futurisms STEAM Symposium is Successful

Indigenous Futurisms STEAM Symposium encouraged Indigenous high school students to consider how traditional knowledge and modern science can collaborate in the future.

Jul 21, 2021

The inaugural Indigenous Futurisms STEAM Symposium, organized by the Faculty of Social Sciences’ Indigenous Studies program and Ohneganos—a McMaster University and Six Nations Global Water Futures research project — was a success.

Styled as a virtual science fair for Indigenous high school students in Grades 7–12, it encouraged participants to consider the future of Indigenous communities using Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) in ways informed by Indigenous stories, songs, and cultural knowledge. 

“Stories permeate every aspect of Indigenous being,” says Ohneganos Project Officer and event organizer, Danielle Boissoneau. “It is a beautiful way to convey knowledge. An Indigenous knowledge keeper might have the equivalent of a degree in our culture, in terms of the knowledge that they carry. We wanted to remind the students that our culture is important and Indigenous knowledge is extremely transferable, especially in STEAM subjects.” 

Organized asked students to think of creative ways for traditional ecological knowledge to work with Western science to solve existing and potential issues in Indigenous communities. 

“In my work, I see many students are aware of their surroundings and already think seriously about how to solve issues like access to water,” adds organizer and Indigenous recruitment and liaison officer, Kari Hill. “They’re also hoping to help their communities by using traditional knowledge they gathered.” 

Organizers hosted the event on the Discord platform, which was popular with students. Participants worked with mentors on their proposed projects and presentations for a month prior to the last event. Over the weeks, they rose to the challenge, ultimately creating projects such as designing a futuristic city and using the Indigenous practice of seed saving to help counter the possible negative impacts of nuclear waste. Another student used video and storytelling to highlight the range of environmental issues concerning Indigenous youth under the theme ‘There’s no Planet B’. 

“The most powerful thing we saw in this process was the students’ growth, passion, and drive. During the pandemic, they had so much going on in their lives, but they still felt that it was important to contribute to the Symposium,” said Boissoneau. “Society often behaves as though young people, particularly young girls, have nothing to add to these conversations, but this was an opportunity to prove otherwise. 

At the end of the event, all participants received an official post-secondary Certificate of Completion from the McMaster University Centre for Continuing Education, an opportunity to work with Ohneganos, as well as cash prizes ranging from $100 to $500. The Grand Prize winner also has an opportunity to participate in a STEAM residence with SHAD Canada. 

Thrilled by the achievements of the inaugural Symposium, organizers are already making plans for next year’s event. “Ultimately, I’d love to see this Symposium become a multi-day event, where students can come and stay on campus and tour the facilities and see what McMaster offers for persons interested in a career in STEAM subjects,” says Hill. 

Other Symposium partners include Six Nations Polytechnic STEAM Academy, Ohneganos, McMaster University Indigenous Student Services, McMaster Continuing Education hosted the Inaugural Indigenous Futurisms STEAM Symposium. It was hosted by Global Water Futures and sponsored by SHAD Canada.