Mi'kmaq youth encouraged to reach for the stars as astronaut helps open maker lab

Mi'kmaq youth in Nova Scotia will have the chance to let their imaginations run wild in new science and technology labs being introduced to every First Nation in the province.

Spaces for youth to tinker with technology to open in 13 First Nations in Nova Scotia

STEM maker labs are being rolled out at 13 First Nations schools in Nova Scotia. (Luke Yoho/CBC)

Mi'kmaq youth in Nova Scotia will have the chance to let their imaginations run wild in new science and technology labs being introduced to every First Nation in the province.

Canadian astronaut Col. Jeremy Hansen and Ulnooweg Development Group Inc. unveiled a new educational space at the L'nu Sipuk Kina'Muokuom (LSK) School in Sipekne'katik First Nation on Thursday. It's the first of 13 maker labs, spaces which will allow children to develop science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.

Maker labs aim to encourage youth to tinker and experiment, using technology in creative ways.

Canadian astronaut Col. Jeremy Hansen unveiled the new maker lab at LSK School in Sipekne'katik First Nation in Nova Scotia on Thursday. (Kaitlyn Swan/CBC)

"I want to make a space city on the moon," said Mi'kmaq student Robert Paul.

Classmate Robert Sack described his own path to one day exploring the cosmos.

"It depends if I go to the correct college," he said. "If I make it past all the grades or not, which I probably will."

Hansen spoke at the event and cut the ribbon.

"A maker lab allows [students] to take a little bit of knowledge, and right away put it into action, figure it out for yourself," he said.

"People that can teach themselves will be able to offer the most in society."

Hansen speaks to students at the school. (Luke Yoho/CBC)

The lab at LSK will offer students several STEM-related resources that include coding through robotics, animation, 3D tech design and artificial intelligence. The classroom also includes an elder's circle for students to connect with traditional Mi'kmaq knowledge and histories, as well as for the elders to learn a few new skills themselves.

Hansen added that much can be learned from Indigenous Peoples' traditional knowledge.

"I've been enriched by Indigenous culture," he said.

"What I've come to recognize is traditional knowledge is very, very rich."

The maker lab at LSK school includes state-of-the-art computer equipment, sewing machines, and other technology like 3D printers. (Luke Yoho/CBC)

Ulnooweg's Chief Operating Officer, Chris Googoo, said he hopes that programs like the maker labs will help Mi'kmaq children excel scholastically and beyond.

"Our approach is to bring the knowledge of the private sector into the schools," said Googoo,

"Honestly, the ultimate goal would be to launch the first Mi'kmaw astronaut."

Googoo said the development group was inspired to create the labs after an evaluation showed the need for more STEM education opportunities in First Nations communities in order to compete in tomorrow's job market.

The next maker lab will be opened at Mi'kmawey School at Nova Scotia's Potlotek First Nation on June 7.