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Program Rationale

“Education is what got us into this mess — the use of education at least in terms of residential schools — but education is the key to reconciliation…We need to look at the way we are educating children. That’s why we say that this is not an Aboriginal problem. It’s a Canadian problem.”
Justice M. Sinclair, 2015


There is a substantial gap that exists between the number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students who have graduated from postsecondary institutions. This gap is even greater in the number of Indigenous students who are in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs. Further, there are even fewer Indigenous students as the remoteness of their home communities increases. Although the number of Indigenous graduates is slowly increasing, this shortfall indicates the continued presence of systemic barriers including the lack of relevant cultural content; lack of funding and support, especially in the North; a lack of access to resources and access to technologies; and ineffective engagement with communities.

However, there have been many efforts that are increasingly being made to Indigenize postsecondary institutions and to provide appropriate support systems for Indigenous students. At the University of Manitoba, programs including the Engineering Access Program (ENGAP) and Wawatay in Science actively support Indigenous students in their work. The Centre for Aboriginal Languages and Cultures at the University College of the North promotes and revitalizes local languages and the Niijii Indigenous Mentorship program at Lakehead University delivers programming and experiential learning opportunities. Yet very few initiatives focus on research or employability, especially when it comes to the environmental sector (i.e., natural resources, energy, and environment). 

There are similar gaps that exist for non-Indigenous NSE students. A large portion of NSE graduates employed in the environmental sector will partake in work-related activities and in industries that have substantial implications for Indigenous communities and their traditional territories, few have had meaningful opportunities as postsecondary students to learn about the histories or the cultures of such communities, much less how to engage with them or with Indigenous organizations in informed and appropriate ways. These gaps are especially great for international students in NSE fields. Although many will ultimately find employment in the environmental sector, they generally have little exposure to and are thus often subject to much misinformation about, Indigenous cultures and history in this country. 

Even when opportunities for cultural learning are created for and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, most are constructed in ways that remain disconnected from employment skills and job readiness. Fluency with Indigenous culture and insights into the systemic barriers that communities face is increasingly recognized as an important asset for all employees in the environmental sector as skill in problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and communications. Indigenous graduates are in extremely short supply and actively sought after throughout the environmental sector, yet employers have very little ability to identify such trainees, especially in NSE. Many also have little experience providing the critical and culturally appropriate support that will help ensure trainee success. Yet, while widespread and harmful in impact, such impasses also become critical opportunities to help address long-standing gaps in support when it comes to cross-cultural learning and job-related training for all NSE trainees, especially for those who are Indigenous.