Indigenous Peoples in STEM
June is National Indigenous History Month and on June 21st, we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day. This is a time to honour the heritage, culture, and traditions of Indigenous peoples and to recognize the feats and achievements of Indigenous peoples across the country.
To celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day, we are excited to showcase these incredible Indigenous Peoples and the unique careers they engage in. Ranging from cosmetics entrepreneur to welder and more, these individuals come from different backgrounds with different levels of education but each share their Indigenous heritage and a passion for STEM.
Gwen Healey Akearok
Executive and Scientific Director
Born and raised in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Gwen Healey Akearok completed her Bachelor of Science in Physics at Queen’s University and her Master of Science in Community Health and Epidemiology at the University of Calgary. Upon completing her master of science, she obtained her Ph.D. in public health at the University of Toronto. Gwen was inspired by her mother to enter the field of medicine, and she continues to be motivated by the different approaches and well-being of peoples living in Nunavut.
Gwen works as a public health researcher and studies diseases in the human population. Her research centre aims to answer health questions in communities across Nunavut. They develop evidence-based programs and workshops that are delivered in schools and communities. Gwen and the research centre she works for uses research and science daily to effect change for the better in their communities.
Creative Director at Code Breaker Films
Sonya Ballantyne is a member of the Swampy Cree of Misipawistik and Chemawin, born in The Pas Manitoba and split time growing up in Grand Rapids and Easterville, Manitoba. Now living in Winnipeg, Sonya has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Psychology from the University of Manitoba, attended theatre and film at the University of Winnipeg and the National Screen Institute.
In her youth, Sonya frequently enjoyed reading and watching films but never saw the Indigenous representation she wanted. Sonya’s career now allows her to create the stories she wants to see and provide opportunities to Indigenous Peoples. Sonya works a lot on creating content for films, using math to create budgets, she writes scripts, creates proposals to get funding and uses technology such as cameras and digital editing platforms.
John Dorion is a member of the Kaministikominahiko-Skak Cree Nation, born and raised in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. John knew as a teenager that he wanted to work in software development so it was only natural that he attended the University of Saskatchewan, obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with a Specialization in Software Engineering. Working at Statistics Canada, John manages a team of developers, analysts, and user experience experts.
John acts as a bridge between clients and developers by answering what businesses need, arranging development and support work, and explaining business requirements from clients to user experience experts. Writing, statistics, and software development are a big part of John’s daily duties. Computer science taught John how to break big problems into manageable pieces and then work them into a plan that can be split amongst coworkers. John is also fluent in English, French, and Chinese!
Ethan Martin is a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, Ohsweken, Ontario. Inspired by the opportunity to work with his hands and contribute more to the world, Ethan jumped into his welding career through a pre-apprenticeship program. Ethan completed his training at the Technical Trades Academy, Brantford, Ontario.
Chemistry is a big part of Ethan’s job, to correctly weld metals together, he needs to know about the chemical and physical properties to get the correct thermal conductivity. Ethan affects people's lives in ways we might overlook. Welding is used in the construction of buildings and transportation containers. If these welds are not perfect, buildings can collapse, and containers could collapse under too much pressure.
Hailing from Mary’s Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, Allison is a member of the NunatuKavut, formerly known as the Labrador Metis Nation. Allison attended Canadian Helicopters Flight School and later, Chinook Helicopters. She became the youngest S-92 pilot in North America and the only female pilot at Cougar Helicopters.
On a daily basis, Allison uses math to calculate the fuel to weight ratio needed to fly, she tracks and predicts weather systems to ensure the crew takes the safest route and GPS is used to plot the helicopter's flight path. The helicopters Allison flies are driven by computers, therefore fully automated, only taking programming inputs from pilots.
Renee Tookenay is Anishinaabekwe and lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on the traditional territory of Fort William First Nation. Renee completed the Nursing Assistant Certification at Red River College, she also attended Lakehead University to become a Naturopathic Doctor and pursue a career in medicine. While attending Lakehead University, Renee was unable to find the cosmetic product she needed so she made her own and this is when her entrepreneurial career was born.
Renee started Tookenay Solutions Inc., a natural cosmetics company and is currently in the research and development phase, involving lots of chemistry. Renee works with muffle furnaces, micro-measuring tools, acids, and graphing tools on any given day. She uses math to measure and mix ingredients, and she uses graphs to analyze the results. Renee is motivated by using creativity and her life's knowledge to solve problems around her.