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The need for the camp is clear, according to Dr. Rahael Jalan, Head of the SIFC Science Department. "In the present system of science education, there is the presumption that those with certain cultural backgrounds are not capable of learning science."
That perception has created problems for Indian people. "Health care is a major concern for Indian people," says Jalan. "But they are severely under represented in the health care professions. In order to attract more Indian students in to these areas, there has to be an overall effort to promote programs in math and science in Indian communities."
In 1985, the Medical Services Branch of Health and Welfare Canada responded to these concerns by funding a health career program that would prepare Indian students for a career in one of the health professions.
That Health and Welfare initiative has now developed into the Indian Health Careers Program at SIFC. The summer camp was developed and funded as part of the program.
Planning for the Math/Science Camp began more that a year ago. Over sixty students applied for the Twenty spaces available at the camp. "It was really wonderful. Parents and counsellors and even school principals were backing up their students," recalled Darla Prettyshield, the camp coordinator. "It was really hard to turn students away. I wish we could have taken them all."
The Math/Science camp was designed to decrease student fears about science by providing hands-on experience with everything -from biology labs to computers. "A lot of students came out of it with a positive attitude," said Prettyshield.
Skye-Blue Angus, a student from Thunderchild who took part in the camp agrees, "I made loads of friends. Everything sounded so interesting I kept changing my mind." She eventually settled on speech pathology, a career that will take seven years to reach. "All the different role models who came and talked to us were great," Angus added.
One of those role models was Bill Cameron, an Environmental Health officer from Beardy's Reserve. Cameron is featured on a poster encouraging Native teenagers to consider health careers. he arrived at the camp in the same suit and tie that he has on in the poster, and, says Prettyshield, "The students really loved that. He brought copies and signed them for the students."
In addition to listening to speakers, the students had the opportunity to participate in a pipe ceremony. Said Prettyshield, "we tried to let them know that they could combine traditional Aboriginal culture and values with science and health careers.
"You don't have to forget about those things just to be a doctor," Prettyshield added. Angus said she thought the pipe ceremony was a good experience for everyone. "Most of the students hadn't been to one before. I really enjoyed it."
A holistic health workshop held during the week reinforced the continuing value of traditional ways. A panel of Elders spoke with the students, telling stories of traditional healing and the difficulties Indian communities have had in adjusting to the established medical system.
Both Prettyshield and assistant coordinator Marilyn Brass, commented on how much the students enjoyed the week. "Some of the students told us they want to come back again next year," commented Brass. "And many made decisions to follow health careers when they get out of school."