Thompson Rivers University

Camp balances fun and higher priorities

  Posted on: August 17, 2018

Who says summer camp can’t be fun and address bigger issues at the same time?

Not only is the TRU Aboriginal Science and Health Science Camp chock-full of activities, opportunities to use high-tech instruments and overnight at the TRU Residence and Conference Centre, but there was also an emphasis on blending Indigenous science and culture with western science.

Held July 30–Aug. 3 and for those going into grades 8 through 10, the camp also served as:

  • an opportunity for prospective students to experience campus
  • an opportunity to implement recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • an opportunity for current Indigenous students and grads to connect with youth while themselves gaining valuable leadership and teaching experience in their roles as instructors and chaperones. They were also seen as role models and sources of inspiration.

“Summer camp gives students opportunities to explore science and health and they will be leaving here with goals and ideas that post-secondary is an option for them, and that this university supplies a lot of support for people who want to pursue post-secondary,” said Jaye Simpson, the camp’s on-site coordinator who is from the Sapotoweyak Cree Nation in Central Manitoba.

“This camp is important because it’s important for Indigenous people to take a space in science, because for too long there hasn’t been a space allotted to us,” said Simpson, who also served as a chaperone in 2017 and 2016 and had completed a number of TRU social work courses before transferring to UBC.

Eighteen campers enrolled this year, with eight from the northern BC community of Hazelton, five from Kamloops, and one each from Burns Lake, Bella Coola, Bonaparte, Barriere and Adams Lake.

Celebrating its tenth year, the camp was founded by faculty members Ann Cheeptham (biological sciences) and Star Mahara (nursing), who in recent years have stepped back to let others gain some leadership experience through the organizing and planning that’s required. Simpson and Tatyana Daniels were among those who have stepped in for the founders. Daniels returned for her third year as coordinator and previous to that was a chaperone for one year. From the Gitxsan Nation and the village of Hazelton, she completed science classes at TRU before transferring to UBC to pursue dietary medicine with an Indigenous focus. Through the years, Aboriginal Education staff member Vernie Clement has also played a key role and he too has stepped back to let others take more responsibility.

Aboriginal science and health science camp 2018

Campers work to solve the case of the missing BC salamanders under the direction of Genome BC Gene Skool.
Kamloops This Week photo

Most of the instruction during the week is provided by someone with an Indigenous background—something that’s important to the camp structure and to Daniels.

“When I was younger and attending camps, I didn’t feel that I could connect to the presenters that were non-Indigenous. They didn’t have the same life experiences as me, they didn’t have the same lack of opportunities as me and they didn’t come from the same life,” said Daniels during the camp’s panel discussion called Exploring the Possibilities. “I thought this would help increase the Indigenous excitement for science by having Indigenous presenters.”

Earlier in the week natural resource science grad Jeremy Sterling (Chu Chua, Barriere) brought bird skeletons with him for his presentation. Computing science students Melvin James (Lil’wat, Mount Currie) and Dolan Paul (Tk’emlúps, Kamloops) talked about coding, big data and the role the campers could play in bringing remote communities into the digital age. Erik Prytula (Haida Gwaii), a science grad and now student in TRU’s Master of Science in Environmental Science, shared how he turned his schooling around from disinterest in his second year of Grade 12 to becoming a straight-A student. Studying birds, his goal is to one day open a birding tourism business in Haida Gwaii.

Other sessions included Genome BC’s Gene Skool, a science show by Science World British Columbia, traditional games like Lahal, a cultural workshop of picking sage and the making of salves, swimming, a night at the movies and shopping.

Marie Sandy, of the T’exelc Nation (Williams Lake), was back for another year as a chaperone. Now in TRU’s Master of Education after graduating this spring from TRU’s Bachelor of Education, she was happy to again be a role model and inspiration who clearly demonstrated education is far from dull and boring.

“I like being somebody they can look up to and to believe that they can be smart and successful. Education has given me so many opportunities. I’ve been able to travel all over BC and in the future will have many more opportunities to travel internationally and because of that, be exposed to the different cultures out there,” said Sandy.

The transition to university can be a difficult one for anyone, especially those coming from smaller towns. Sandy didn’t hesitate to talk about the many supports available and of the ones that assisted her.

“I want these kids to see that there’s help and support on campus, that they belong here and to see the opportunities that education can give you,” she said.