Empowering Indigenous Youth and Fostering Economic Reconciliation

August 1, 2023

Empowering Indigenous youth to contribute their voices to discussions around economic reconciliation was a top objective of the Forward Summit held in partnership with Actua and the Calgary Board of Education in May. The youth participated in a multi-day for-credit land camp as well as the Forward Summit, an event that brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations for important discussions about economic reconciliation. Twenty-five Indigenous youth were selected by Actua and the Calgary Board of Education to participate as part of the 2023 Forward Summit Youth Delegation.

Forward Summit 2023: Empowering Indigenous Youth

In May 2023, 25 Indigenous youth joined the 2023 Forward Summit Youth Delegation, participating in a multi-day landcamp and the Forward Summit.

“Actua, through our community and industry partners, creates cultural STEM learning environments that demonstrate to Indigenous youth that Indigenous Knowledge is equal to, and has contributed significantly to Western science, medicine and technologies,” says Doug Dokis, advisor for Actua’s National Indigenous Youth In STEM (InSTEM) program.  “The partnership with Forward Summit allowed the youth participating to experience the STEM learning we provide, coupled with an incredible experience engaging directly with industry professionals.”

“STEM education is important to our future economy, so it’s critical to economic reconciliation that Indigenous youth are engaged in these discussions,” says Jennifer Flanagan, President and CEO, Actua. “This was an experience like no other, with a lasting impact on all involved. I’m proud that Actua was able to help facilitate that.”

Land-Based STEM Learning Camp Provides a Transformative Experience

To start off their journey, youth delegates participated in three days of on-the-land learning and one day of technology-focused training as part of an InSTEM for-credit land camp. The first two days were spent in Tsuut’ina Nation, followed by a day at Blackfoot Crossing Historic Park, and concluded at the University of Calgary campus.

During the land camp, Indigenous youth delegates were fully immersed in the rich tradition of storytelling, which holds immense significance in Indigenous cultures. Elders Casey Eaglespeaker and Diana Starlight, along with Cultural Practitioners Bruce Starlight and Ellery Starlight, shared numerous stories and teachings that have been passed down through generations. Through these stories, the youth gained insights into the Indigenous cultural practices of Tsuut’ina Nation and the interconnectedness of all living beings.


Over the first two days at the land camp, the youth had the opportunity to participate in various activities, including a Tipi raising ceremony, where they learned the mechanics of the process alongside the sacred teachings associated with it.

They also engaged in sessions exploring the significance of beading, the importance of the buffalo hide in producing essential items like medicine pouches, and they had a chance to express their individuality and personal connection to their cultures by designing their own Tipi designs. Doing this allowed the youth to reflect on and share their personal stories and values, fostering a deeper understanding of their identities and histories while cultivating a sense of pride in their heritage.

On the third day of the camp, the youth embarked on a cosmic journey as they delved into the history of the Siksika Nation at Blackfoot Crossing Historic Park. An immersive movie theatre, designed with a starlit sky, transported them into the rich cultural heritage of the region. Following this experience, they met Rob Cardinal, an Indigenous astrophysicist who installed a telescope for them to observe the sun. Rob’s inspirational words shed light on his journey, the importance of making crucial decisions and the pursuit of one’s dreams. This encounter expanded the youth’s horizons, demonstrating the limitless possibilities when combining cultural heritage with contemporary fields of study.

On the final day, students took all they had learned and experienced and used it within a technology-focused workshop. At the start of the camp, each participant was given a Microsoft Surface where they could take photos, capture notes and add pins to maps to catalog their memories and learning.

They used this information as part of a digital mapping activity, highlighting places that held meaning for them during their time at the camp. This exercise encouraged them to explore the intersection of Indigenous Knowledge and technology, bridging traditional practices with contemporary tools to express their connection to the land and their communities.

“In school, we’re taught how to understand science through formulas and facts. But the Indigenous way of doing it is that you don’t call it science, it’s just knowing,” said R, one of the youth participants during a video interview about the camp.

It’s important for Indigenous youth to learn Indigenous STEM Knowledge from Elders alongside Western science and technology practitioners so that they see themselves and their cultures reflected within STEM environments. The sense of belonging, cultural identity and confidence the youth participants gain are vital to sparking their curiosity and hopefully encouraging them to continue learning within STEM fields of study,” says Doug Dokis.

The land camp was made possible through the generous support of the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre, Enbridge, the Suncor Energy Foundation and CIBC Foundation.

Forward Summit: The Future is Youth!

With the land-camp experience still fresh in their minds, the youth helped kick off the Forward Summit. A youth panel called “The Future is Youth” included four members of the youth delegation who showcased their knowledge and passion for different areas of interest, demonstrating their capacity to drive change and contribute meaningfully to economic reconciliation discussions.

Youth panelist R talked to the audience about sustainable and inclusive architecture and emphasized the importance of designing spaces for the diverse needs of all communities, incorporating cultural sensitivity and environmental stewardship. R’s insights shed light on the potential for Indigenous perspectives to transform the architectural landscape.

Another youth panelist, Samantha, spoke of Indigenous ways of Knowing, emphasizing the importance of environmental conservation. She eloquently stated, “No matter who a person is or where we come from, we are all from the land.” 

Samantha highlighted the interconnectedness between Indigenous cultures, the Earth and all living beings. Her perspective served as a reminder of the vital role Indigenous Knowledge and practices play in achieving a sustainable and harmonious future.

A third panelist, Jada, centered her remarks on healthcare and the need for improved services for Indigenous Peoples. She brought attention to the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA ) standards, a framework developed to ensure culturally safe healthcare experiences for Indigenous individuals. Jada emphasized the importance of addressing the unique healthcare challenges faced by Indigenous communities and the significance of incorporating Indigenous perspectives in healthcare policies and practices. 

The fourth panelist, Chloe, spoke about generational trauma and cultural safety within the workplace. She shared a powerful example from her school, where an Indigenous community lodge provides a safe space for Indigenous students, illustrating how cultural safety can be actively fostered. Chloe highlighted the importance of recognizing and addressing the historical traumas endured by Indigenous Peoples, and the responsibility of organizations to create environments that honour and respect Indigenous cultures. Her insights resonated with attendees and highlighted the urgent need for cultural safety initiatives across various sectors.

One of the biggest highlights from the Forward Summit was the youth’s participation in it. Their presence and contributions served as a catalyst for meaningful dialogue and reflection on the importance of including Indigenous youth voices in economic reconciliation discussions. The panelists were well-prepared and showed courage as they spoke to a crowd that included a variety of industry professionals and leaders from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations. All members of the delegation showcased the immense potential of Indigenous youth to drive positive change and shape a more inclusive and prosperous future.

Talking About Careers Over Breakfast

On the final day of the summit, Actua hosted a Niitoyis iipoosins “Tipi Talks” industry breakfast, which provided a safe and inclusive space for Indigenous youth to engage directly with Indigenous and non-Indigenous industry representatives. Attendees included representatives from Enbridge, Canative Energy, CIBC, Suncor Finning, Imperial, Pimee Well Servicing, Microsoft, TC Energy, The Mikisew Group and 3M. This gathering aimed to create relationships and future pathways between Indigenous youth and the professional world, fostering an environment that nurtures their aspirations, dreams and talents.

“Witnessing Indigenous youth and professionals from diverse organizations connect and share knowledge at Actua’s Niitoyis iipoosins ‘Tipi Talks’ breakfast was inspiring,” said Mark Shilliday, Indigenous Recruitment Senior Advisor, HR Talent Acquisition at Enbridge. “Fostering meaningful relationships and creating future pathways for Indigenous youth is not only essential but also an investment in our collective success.  Together, we can build a future where Indigenous voices are not only heard, but celebrated and empowered.”

“What a pleasure it was to connect with the youth and other industry leaders at Actua’s ‘Talking over Breakfast’ session. We spoke with a diverse group of students from all across the region and their longing to see a better future was quite evident and inspiring. Thank you to Actua for facilitating a warm and open atmosphere for candid discussions to take place. I am really looking forward to seeing what these young leaders can accomplish with the help of organizations like Actua and also the many partners that have stepped up to the plate with their support and guidance,” said Harold Reimer, Indigenous Business Development Manager, Finning (Canada).

At the breakfast, Indigenous youth connected with and learned from Indigenous business leaders and professionals from various organizations. These leaders shared their personal journeys, providing invaluable insights into navigating the path to employment success. 

The Niitoyis iipoosins “Tipi Talks” breakfast provided an opportunity for the 25 youth participants to grow their confidence and help prepare them for their educational and career journeys. The exchange of ideas and perspectives during the breakfast not only enriched the youth’s understanding of career opportunities but also provided industry participants with valuable insights into attracting and engaging Indigenous talent in a meaningful way.

An inspiring journey with a lasting impact

The InSTEM land camp, Niitoyis iipoosins “Tipi Talks” breakfast and the entire Forward Summit experience left an indelible mark on all those involved.

From transformative learning experiences with Indigenous leaders to powerful panel discussions on issues near and dear to the youth participants, and onward to direct conversations about their future careers, this multi-day experience will have a lasting impact on the youth involved. It will also have a lasting impact on the industry professionals and those representatives from Actua who attended and were privileged to interact and speak with the youth. 

Through continued collaboration and support, we can create a future where Indigenous youth thrive and continue to play a vital role in shaping our society and economy.

Join us for Forward Summit East! Learn more.