The head of an agency that provides technical advice to the entire nation in Ontario hopes that a new mentorship program will open the eyes of young Indigenous people to their potential.
Melanie Debasege, executive director of the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation, said many First Nations youth are unaware of career opportunities in so-called STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The nonprofit corporation hopes to have 30 indigenous high school students enrolled in the mentorship program this summer.
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“It goes hand-in-hand with our vision to create technological self-sufficiency in First Nations communities, but is also part of our mandate,” said Debasiz, a member of the Anishinbeck Nation.
“In our communities right now, they need water operators, they need engineers.”
Debasege said that working in trades would also be beneficial for indigenous youth, with many traders such as millwrights, electricians, and plumbers being close to six-figure salaries.
“It is going to affect the economy in the First Nation, and so you are not going to get the money, but the money is being spent within the community,” DeBassiz said.
“So the dollar, if it flips one, two, three times, it’s going to help the First Nation’s economy. So I look at it from the perspective of community development.”
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For now, students and their mentors will meet online, including in-person interactions, including a hands-on learning plan for them this autumn, when COVID-19 restrictions are expected easily.
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Janet Gallant, an infrastructure specialist with the corporation, consulted with First Nation across Ontario on project management. When she found out that the agency was going to mentor indigenous high school students interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, she saw an opportunity to help.
Gallant, a member of Sogen First Nation, who grew up in London, said, “I think it is important to show students that all these opportunities are working in communities or especially in STEM.”
“We need more indigenous youth to move in this direction.”
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Gallant, who studies Architectural Technology, said that during his career, he has been in a formal and informal mentorship relationship and it has always helped his professional development.
“I learned what you can learn from other people, is it in the ability to do the work you’re doing or life skills,” Gallant said.
The patron program will be open to indigenous people in grades 7–12, either at stores or in urban centers.
There are no age restrictions, recognizing the fact that many indigenous people are working to complete a secondary school diploma in their 20s.
Both DeBassiz and Gallant also said they hoped the gender would not be seen as a handicap for anyone who is considering applying.
Gallant said she hopes to mentor young women and Debasegi said that anyone who identifies as transgender, non-binary or two-soul is welcome.
© 2021 Canadian Press