Drum dancing and science: Tuktoyaktuk summer camp combines STEM with traditional skills

On a rainy Thursday in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories last week, a group of children, using paper and a sewing needle, built an amplifier for the turntables they were learning to manufacture.

It was part of a four-week camp in July that integrates traditional learning with science, technology, engineering and math – also known as STEM fields.

“I find it amazing,” said Olivia King, 10, who was part of the camp. “The people here are amazing, they really care about everyone. Make sure they’re safe.”

Turntable building was part of the music and storytelling portion of the camp, where King and more than 15 young people from Tuktoyaktuk learned about the history of recording music. The day was incorporated with local elders giving drum dancing lessons.

Delaney Kimiksana, left, builds his own amplifier to listen to vinyl for the first time at an Inuvialuit Regional Corporation camp in partnership with Actua Canada in Tuktoyaktuk in July. (Karli Zschogner/CBC)

Another week, the group learned to plant seeds.

One activity, and King’s favorite project, was the last week of camp where they worked with university and college students on STEM projects, including making papier-mâché planets while learning about the solar system.

That week there was a national youth initiative called Canada News, which travels the country to deliver youth camps designed to break down barriers to youth participation in science, engineering and technology. The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) invited Actua members.

“We are very grateful to have their resources and to be able to work with them,” said Vivianne Kupovics, a student from Montreal who is one of three students who came with Actua. “It’s fantastic, and it really helps the kids have a strong structure too.”

The team, through various activities, taught coding and robotics, and carried out projects with the children such as making fake volcanoes, rockets and instruments.

Viviane Kupovics of Montreal, left, and Jordyn Hendricks of Ottawa, both of Actua Canada. (Karli Zschogner/CBC)

“It helps kids understand,” Kupovics said.

For over a decade, Actua has delivered STEM programs across the Northwest Territories

Meeka Steen is responsible for the IRC summer camp in Tuktoyaktuk for children aged 5-12.

“Kids really enjoy it because it’s stuff they’ve never seen or done before,” she said, referring to listening to vinyl records and learning how they work.

Steen said some STEM activities have helped her and local educators bring new ideas to the community.

Before coming to Tuktoyaktuk, the Actua group was in Sachs Harbour, Inuvik and Gamètì.

They then travel to Nunavut to visit Kugaaruk and Cambridge Bay, then to Fort Chipewyan in Alberta.

At a summer camp to inspire young people to get interested in STEM subjects, children made fake volcanoes. The camp was paired with traditional learning that included activities like Inuvialuit drum dancing lessons. (Karli Zschogner/CBC)

Ottawa student Jordyn Hendricks is part of the Actua team and will begin her first year at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto.

Hendricks said the ability to have cultural elements tied to these camps is one of the “most important” aspects of the camps, especially since the band members are guests in these communities.

“Especially as an Indigenous person, I really enjoy the contact with other Indigenous people,” Hendricks said.

“I was really grateful to have this experience, to share a bit of my southern culture with my own teachings and my own spirituality and to learn more about other teachings and spirituality of other nations and indigenous peoples .”

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