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Science and camping: a winning combination

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By Heather Andrews Miller Sweetgrass Writer HORSE LAKE FIRST NATION







Young people from Horse Lake First Nation near Hythe in northern Alberta recently spent a week enjoying all things science in a fun camp setting.

The event was organized by Actua, a national charity with a mission to provide life-changing experiences for youth, ages six to 17 years.

Actua not only ensures that some of the university students who lead the camps are Aboriginal, but local Elders, parents, and volunteers from nearby communities who are of First Nations heritage are also involved.
In this manner appropriate cultural context is provided for the youth, said Leslie Cuthbertson, director of partnerships and communications at Actua.

 “We strive to be in as many communities as possible. We’d been in Horse Lake before and the response was very strong so it was great to be able to return,” said Cuthbertson, speaking from her Ottawa office.

 Funding from GE Canada, Suncor Energy, NSERC as well as founding partner Shell Canada and others makes the program possible and over the years over three million young Canadians have enjoyed and been inspired by camps in their home towns.

“Youth in outlying communities often have fewer resources for extra-curricular activities than do the kids in the bigger centres. Aboriginal youth remain significantly under-represented in the science and technology post-secondary programs and careers so we make a special effort to design a camp that will appeal to them and give them inspiration,” said Cuthbertson.

Including Elders in the activities gives them an opportunity to share their traditional knowledge with the youth as well.

When Actua started the camp program in 2000, they reached 3,000 Aboriginal youth. But demand for the camp has increased over the years and now, in 2010 there are 20,000 youth attending in 150 communities across Canada.

“Community partnerships are also critical to the success of the camps too, such as friendship centres and hamlet administration offices, which are looking for programming for their young people during the summer months,” said Cuthbertson.

A typical project at the camp might include constructing a model of a fully-functioning digestive system, which shows youth how nutrients get into their bodies.

“In many cases it leads to career choices later in the school years. This activity also teaches them about how their bodies work and helps them to look after themselves,” said Cuthbertson.

In addition to learning, youth have fun as they participate in age-appropriate activities and make friends. Campfires and sing songs easily lead into the week-long focus on science, engineering and technology with participants discovering neat facts about their world in hands-on project work.

With the University of Alberta in Edmonton and Red Deer College both involved as host institutions, it’s likely camps will continue to be held in various communities around the province for many years to come.