9-year-old Cree boy inspires others with educational science videos

A single eagle feather sits on the kitchen table in Simon Monteith’s house.

Next door is a range of household products including hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, food coloring and a baking dish.

The scene depicts the two worlds the nine-year-old walks through.

From a scientific point of view, feathers help thrust, enabling flight. From a First Nations perspective, an eagle feather is a symbol of respect.

« I like to look at things from two or more angles, » says Simon.

For the past two years, the Cree youth from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba has been virtually inviting others to his Winnipeg home to share his love of all things science.

Using his kitchen as a backdrop, Simon produced around 60 educational videos and posted them on social media as Simon The Scientist.

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The project started at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Simon asked his mother to create a video to help explain the virus to other children and young people. It expanded to content on geology, technology and chemistry.

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Jacqueline Monteith said her son has always had the ability to understand complex concepts in original ways.

« It’s fascinating that a child has a unique ability to teach science concepts or complex concepts to other children in a very unique way. Children teaching children is a way children will understand, unlike adults trying to teach children,” Monteith said.

Simon’s love for science came at an early age.

“It’s not really one thing in particular that made me interested in science. It’s kind of who I am,” he said.

Simon hopes to reach underrepresented groups in science.

For Rob Cardinal, that same goal inspired him to help found IndigeSTEAM, an organization that provides Indigenous-led, culturally relevant programs to Indigenous youth and other underrepresented groups.

The organization takes its name from the acronym STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The group incorporates arts, architecture and agriculture into its programming to form STEAM. This represents areas where Indigenous peoples have been innovators for thousands of years.

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“Knowledge is knowledge. Our ways and our culture are so applicable in these times,” says Cardinal.

A 2020 Conference Board of Canada study found that Indigenous students are more engaged in a curriculum that connects Indigenous ways of knowing with Western science.

The council has completed over 100 different programs across Canada aimed at helping Indigenous learners succeed in STEM. The study found that while there has been a push to reach Indigenous students in the early years, there is still a gap in preparing high school students for post-secondary STEM education.

Indigenous people make up 4% of adults in Canada, but less than 2% of those working in STEM.

There is a lack of financial, technical and community resources, said Doug Dokis, director of Actua’s Indigenous Youth in STEM program.

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The National Education Organization is one of the largest STEM outreach organizations in the country. It has established relationships with 200 Indigenous communities to deliver programs to approximately 35,000 youth.

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While work is being done on the ground and through various programs, there has still not been a cohesive national effort to improve Indigenous education outcomes and participation in STEM fields, Dokis added. who is Anishinaabe from the Dokis First Nation in Ontario.

Dokis said that in recent years the industry has relied on indigenous knowledge of climate and land sustainability.

“Indigenous peoples have always experienced STEM at the highest level. Indigenous knowledge is now becoming central to addressing some of the current social, environmental and economic challenges facing society as a whole in Canada.

Cardinal says it’s important for Indigenous youth to have role models.

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Cardinal is Blackfoot from the Siksika First Nation and an astrophysicist. After discovering a comet, Cardinal says one of his elders told him he had an obligation to his nation to share his knowledge, which prompted him to move into a mentor role.

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Cardinal hopes to show young people that there is a place for them in science.

« Give them some inspiration and give them some pride. »

Back in Winnipeg, Simon becomes a mentor in his own right.

He wants to turn his passion project into a television show to reach more young people. He submitted a business plan to the Pow Wow Pitch, a competition for Indigenous entrepreneurs, and is a semi-finalist.

« (I want) to help support other kids’ ideas so they can do what they want, which may not be science or maybe science, but I want to help kids find their dream. »

© 2022 The Canadian Press


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