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Science and Traditional Knowledge Share the Spotlight at STEM Camp for Girls

Press Release

A first of its kind summer camp in the Northwest Territories blended traditional Indigenous knowledge and science to encourage  teenage girls to consider science as a realistic and rewarding career opportunity.

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Camp was funded by De Beers Group, and run by the DechĮta Naowo, education and training arm of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN). It was held at the YKDFN’s traditional Williideh site on the Yellowknife River from July 4-8.

The project was coordinated by Kimberly Balsillie, a social performance specialist based in De Beers’ Yellowknife office. “We were so pleased to be able to hold the camp this year after having to postpone it in 2021 due to Covid-19. Our goal was to open the participants’ eyes to the possibilities that exist for women in STEM and still remain connected to their traditions.”

Fourteen girls from Behchoko, Fort Smith, Hay River, N’Dilo and Yellowknife took part. It was the third STEM camp sponsored by De Beers Group as part of a partnership with UN Women to advance opportunities for women and girls in the company’s producer countries. The first two camps were held in 2018 and 2019 at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. This year’s camp included a live-stream afternoon science session with the University.

Pamela Cook Ellemers, Principal Mineral Resource Manager for De Beers Canada, and the lead for the company’s Inclusion and Diversity team in Canada, said: “It is important to bridge the two worlds of science and traditional knowledge, to acknowledge that both are important and have their place and to show that girls have a place in STEM, fields traditionally dominated by men.”

Highlights during the four-day camp included participants learning how to make dryfish, gathering plants to make traditional medicines, visiting a virtual reality arcade and 360-degree theatre, and learning about geology and the NWT mining history.

Participant Elisha Kikoak Chabun said: “I was planning to become a carpenter, and my dream job is to become a filmmaker, but I think geology could be a cool career path. I enjoyed hearing people talk about how passionate they are over rocks.”

The camp is one of the activities underpinning the De Beers Group Building Forever goal to engage 10,000 girls in STEM in its producer countries by 2030. In addition to looking at whether a similar camp can be held in 2023, De Beers is working to bring the successful Women in Engineering (WomEng) program to Canada. One of WomEng’s goals is to develop high-skilled girls and women for the engineering and technology industries. It is already active in 24 counties and has engaged more than 75,000 girls and women, predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Canada, De Beers Group has more than 600 employees, and is the operator of the joint venture Gahcho Kué Mine in the Northwest Territories. The company has an operational support center in Calgary, Alberta, an exploration team based out of Toronto, Ontario, is actively closing two mines, and is advancing the Chidliak Diamond Project on Baffin Island.

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