Science fair attracts talented young Aboriginals


Johnny Yuliusie and Judith Naluiyuk from Salluit made traditionnal inuit soap
photo by: Isabelle Dubois

What can I do to avoid bacterial growth in my poutine? What do smokers’ lungs look like? How can I grow tomatoes in Chisasibi? How can I make low-cost speakers? These are some of the questions that provided starting points for the science projects of Eeyou Istchee students who participated in the Quebec Aboriginal Science Fair held in Kuujjuaq last month.

More than 100 curious and resourceful kids, aged 10 to 16, flew to Kuujjuaq to attend the annual science exhibition March 18-20. They came from 30 communities, including Whapmagoostui, Mashteuiatsh and all Nunavik communities, except Tasiujaq. Held at the Jaanimmarik School, the event was organized by the Quebec Aboriginal Science and Engineering Association (QASEA) in collaboration with the Kativik School Board. Chisasibi and Wemindji communities were also well represented.

Summer-Harmony Twenish is Cree and a vegetarian. Not an easy lifestyle choice in Chisasibi. “Good vegetables are hard to find here. And even when you do, they do not last long. They are expensive too,” said the 16-year-old student.

Since the growing season is very short, and gardening accordingly difficult, Summer-Harmony tried to find a way to solve the problem. With her partner, Shirleen Dunn, she prepared a science project called “What’s ‘Tohmatoe’ With You?” to study if vegetables can be grown indoors. To show how easy sustainable gardening is, Summer-Harmony got hold of a small $1 growing kit consisting of peat moss that puffs up when watered. ”We planted beans and it‘s already got green stalks growing. We had them under a lamp to give them light. It was simple,” she explained.

Summer-Harmony has participated in science fair since she was in Grade 5. “My mom wanted me to do it because it helps in presentation skills and you’ve got opportunities to travel and share your ideas and learn about new things and other people’s projects.”

For Zaïnab Souit, also from Chisasibi, speaking in public was not at all an issue. The confident 11-year-old student attracted a large audience with her exhibit consisting of two real pig lungs. “Seeing the other school kids smoking on break time, I was wondering what their lungs looked like,” she said.

So with the help of pig lungs (borrowed from her school) and a pump, Zaïnab, who is of Moroccan origin, showed how smoking affects respiratory function. Her presentation had at least one positive effect: “A visitor told me that she would quit smoking,” she said, proudly. Kevin Happyjack-Belanger and Dylan Saganash from Waswanipi, for their part, studied the effects of chewing tobacco.

Agriculture and biology were only a few of the wide range of topics explored by the students. Along with exhibits that had a northern or Aboriginal flavour (like making soap with seal fat or explaining the Northern Lights), exhibitors also showed projects reflecting teens’ interests.

Music was a part of it. Stacey George and Surina Meeko, two Cree-Inuit sisters from Whapmagoostui, made speakers with Styrofoam plates, magnets and wire. Whereas Marie-Alice Tremblay was more concerned about bacteria that could propagate in food, especially in poutine. Inspired by a scientific quiz on TV, the Grade 6 student from Wemindji decided to verify the results of a scientific experiment by attempting to reproduce them. After checking the internal temperatures of food in various situations, she was able to determine that the best way to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria was to cool it rapidly in the fridge in an uncovered vessel. Using her artistic talents, Marie-Alice made real-looking poutine with clay and special glue. So many visitors touched it, that it was surely full of germs, by the end of the day.

According to Marc Lalande, President of QASEA, “2013 was a very good year. These kids are really sharp.”

Dr. Stanley Vollant, the first Innu to become a surgeon in Quebec, attended the event as a guest speaker. “I saw very bright kids who could pursue careers in science or other fields. I saw future Aboriginal leaders.”

The top three students of each grade were given awards. Zaïnab won the first prize in the Secondary 1 category. Along with three Kuujjuaq students – Lukasi Tukkiapik, Jeremy Davies and Anne Sequaluk – she is also part of the Grand Winners of the entire Science Fair. These students will represent Quebec Aboriginal people, among the 500 best Canadians, to take part in the Canada-wide Science Fair in Lethbridge, Alberta in mid-May.

For more info on the science fair: