Taylon Chaboyer (left) and Trinity Johnson learn about animal dentistry at the WCVM. Photo by Kyrsten Stringer.
Taylon Chaboyer (left) and Trinity Johnson learn about animal dentistry at the WCVM. Photo by Kyrsten Stringer.

Program links Indigenous students to science

High school students Trinity Johnson and Taylon Chaboyer travelled over 400 kilometres to visit the labs and clinics of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) as part of the Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Education program from May 8 to 12.

The national program offers Indigenous students in Grade 11 the chance to spend a week learning in science and engineering environments at Canadian universities.

Johnson, who hails from Winnipeg, Man., decided that she wanted to become a veterinarian when she was young and went through the experience of losing her childhood pet.

"I had a lot of animals. One of them got sick, and I couldn't treat him," Johnson says.

Chaboyer, who lives in Cumberland House, Sask., was less certain about her future.

"I wasn't even thinking about going to school when I was done high school, because I struggle in math," Chaboyer says. "I'm only at a Grade 4 level. But they told me that they'll help you with tutoring. So I recommend coming, even if you're scared."

Founded in 2009, the Kirkness program's main objective is to create bridges of opportunity and possibility in the sciences for Canada's young First Nations, Métis and Inuit students. Its namesake is Verna J. Kirkness — a Cree scholar, a professor emerita of the University of British Columbia and a lifelong advocate of Aboriginal education.

During their week-long visit to the WCVM, Johnson and Chaboyer had a little taste of what it means to dedicate your life to the health and study of animals. Dr. Andy Allen, a professor of anatomic pathology at the WCVM, designed the college's week-long learning program so the Kirkness students had an opportunity to "do what veterinarians do."

With the help of Allen and other members of the college's faculty and staff, the two 16-year-olds learned about everything from animal rehabilitation to the sensitivity of a cow's hoof to the fact that our dogs and cats need dentists, too.

After sitting in on a canine spay procedure, Johnson said that she could see herself as a veterinary surgeon. Chaboyer took a particular shine to the idea of becoming a dentist for animals. One of the faculty members who visited with the students was Dr. Candace Lowe, a specialist in veterinary dentistry at the WCVM. Lowe is also a member of the Norway House First Nation in northern Manitoba.

"I wanted to work with medicine, but I didn't think I'd want to become a vet," says Chaboyer. "That's how it changed me. After this experience, I kind of want to be a vet now."

Visit www.vernajkirkness.org for more information about the education program.
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