Engaging Indigenous Youth for Economic Reconciliation: The Forward Summit East Youth Delegation

September 6, 2023

Economic reconciliation aims to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in Canada, fostering a fair and inclusive economy. Engaging Indigenous youth in achieving this goal is crucial to its success. To support this, a group of 25 Indigenous university students will join Forward Summit East, forming the Forward Summit East Youth Delegation.

On September 27 and 28, Forward Summit East will take place in Rama Nation. Forward Summit is a bi-annual national gathering of Indigenous and non-Indigenous thought leaders who are committed to Indigenous prosperity through Truth and Reconciliation. Actua partnered with Forward Summit West this past May to bring together 25 Indigenous high school students for a similar experience. 

Actua and the Forward Summit believe that aligning Indigenous worldviews and Ways of Knowing with the Western education system lays the foundation for Indigenous people’s full participation in Canada’s economy and is a fundamental element of reconciliation. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills are essential for success in today’s economy, however, Indigenous youth do not always see themselves as belonging in STEM. To change this, Actua is actively supporting Indigenous youths’ STEM journey from an early age.

Empowering Indigenous Youth in STEM: Actua's Approach

Doug Dokis, an advisor for Actua’s National Indigenous Youth in STEM program (InSTEM), emphasizes the importance of integrating Indigenous Knowledge into STEM education. “Indigenous people have always known about STEM. Through hands-on, experiential learning, we help Indigenous youth understand how their cultures are integral to STEM, better preparing them for any career pathway they choose and fostering a sense of belonging in STEM.”

From STEM learning opportunities for children in elementary school to on-the-land for-credit learning for Indigenous youth in high school, and support for youth through their post-secondary education into full-time employment, Actua aims to be there— engaging with youth and advocating for systemic change in Canada’s education system at every key step.

“Economic and social reconciliation needs to be a top priority for everyone, including Canadian businesses. A part of this includes investments in STEM education equity and working with Indigenous youth throughout their journey toward a fulfilling career,” said Jennifer Flanagan, Actua’s Co-founder and CEO. “Through partnerships that bring together youth, industry and educators, we can progress together in a way that is both meaningful and impactful.”

Some of the exceptional youth Actua engages started their STEM learning through STEM camps, while others gained interest during their post-secondary education as STEM instructors, including many members of the Forward Summit East Youth delegation.

These instructors are leaders, instilling confidence and a sense of belonging in the young minds they teach. Their growth and transformation in these roles highlight the impact of nurturing STEM learning early and often and the importance of providing professional development opportunities.

Pathways to Opportunity for the Forward Summit East Youth Delegation

Before their participation in Forward Summit East, Actua will host a one-day learning session for the delegation. Guided by Indigenous Elders and Cultural Practitioners, the session will include Indigenous cultural learning activities and professional development workshops, including Rights of Passage and cultural transition into the workforce. These will prepare the youth for the summit, enhance their leadership skills and support their entry into the workforce.

“We want to see more Indigenous people studying science, engineering and math in university or college and in order to achieve this, we need to engage them throughout their youth and ensure they have the skills and confidence to pursue these fields. We do that through our InSTEM program,” said Doug Dokis. “If we want them to thrive in Canada’s innovation economy after their schooling is complete, we must continue that engagement in ways that open pathways to opportunities and networks. Forward Summit is an excellent way to offer that.”

The delegation will participate in a youth panel on the first morning of the two-day conference. This panel will provide space for four members of the delegation to share their experiences, concerns and proposed actions. This will be a valuable component of the event because the youth will have the opportunity to provide insight that other stakeholders may not have considered, sparking new ideas and solutions. All members of the delegation will actively participate in other sessions at the summit as well, ensuring their voices and ideas are shared throughout the two days. 

“It’s essential that we create space for Indigenous youth to participate in national conversations about economic reconciliation if we hope to establish the sustained momentum needed to address and correct the growing economic gap existing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians,” said President and Founder of Forward Summit Miki Reeder. “I am certain the lived experiences, insights and unique outlooks of our 2023 Forward Summit East Youth Delegation will provide inspiration and hope to all industry partners and conference participants in attendance.” 

In addition to the sessions, the youth delegation will join 10 industry professionals from Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations over lunch for one-on-one discussions and networking with business professionals. This engagement will help industry representatives understand what Indigenous youth are looking for in an employer and may lead to tangible career opportunities for some of the youth delegates.

“This gathering will allow the youth to share what they need from industry, what their hopes are for their careers, and what’s on their minds in terms of their futures,” said Jennifer Flanagan. “We’re proud to be hosting this networking lunch, and we know from our experience at Forward Summit West last spring that the conversations held in this setting will be meaningful for everyone involved.”

Advancing economic equity in Canada must include Indigenous youth. Whether it’s making space for them to share their viewpoints as part of broader discussions on economic reconciliation, supporting their education, or providing pathways for direct engagement with potential employers, we must do what we can to enable their success. Narrowing economic disparities within Canada cannot happen without this essential group.

Interested in attending Forward Summit East? Learn more here.