Northern Lights


Aimed at emerging Indigenous students

  • While our header identifies our target students, you may not completely grasp who qualifies as such a person. The keyword is emerging, which is all about passion and curiosity. We’re excited to hear from people who love to think about how the universe works – the whole thing (think Astrophysics) or any subset of its elements (think Biology, Chemistry & all other sciences).

    Our definition of emerging is broad. All we want is a glimmer of interest. Of course, if you already identified your scientific passion, Wawatay is definitely for you. In essence, we’re looking for a spark we can ignite in people with ambition, a work ethic, and perseverance. And we have a few more tangible requirements too when you consider applying.

    Once accepted into the program, we honour you with the title of Wawatay Scholar, while offering you the opportunity for a Science degree, strengthened by hands-on research experience.

  • Ayush Kumar and Taylor Morrisseau looking at test tubes

A path forward

  • a tipi beside a building with two persons walking
  • Like any university program, the endgame for Wawatay Scholars is earning a degree representing a broad spectrum of competencies, capabilities, and experiences. With Wawatay, however, the path to our goal is as important as the goal itself.

    The principle that guides us is honouring traditional knowledge. As a Wawatay scholar, you will witness professors and staff blending Indigenous knowledge with Western science in research, teaching, and learning. Since this path is relatively unexplored, it may be a little rocky at first. Over time though, we expect the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Science to lead the way.

    One thing we know is that experiential research provides a perfect opportunity for infusing an appreciation for Indigenous approaches while increasing students’ scientific proficiency. This is why Wawatay emphasizes hands-on learning. And it’s not only the students who will learn!

    We’re also intent on removing obstacles. Wawatay offers a full spectrum of support addressing skill gaps, distracting life issues as well as social and cultural needs.

Recognizing the need and potential

  • As you might expect from the Faculty of Science, we recognized a problem and an opportunity by looking at the numbers. In 2019, only 5% of our students self-declared as Indigenous, even though 20% of Manitoba’s population is Indigenous. When we looked deeper, we found their graduation rates also lagged. The bottom line: Only a handful of First Nations and Inuit students graduate with a science degree each year.

    It could be that the world doesn’t associate Indigenous culture with science. Consequently, many Indigenous young people don’t envision themselves as scientists. Furthermore, teachers or counselors may not encourage them, even if they show interest or potential.

    What most of the world doesn’t know is that Indigenous nations in the Americas were technologically advanced. When you compare when Indigenous inventions appeared in the last millennium to when the same innovation showed up outside the Americas, you see that Indigenous nations were hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of years ahead.

    Bad memories from science class may be another reason for so few Indigenous science majors. Early on, many Indigenous children thrived learning science. As they advanced, teachers imposed a rigidity that forced them to sublimate their Indigenous Way of Knowing. For example, they were required to dismiss human participation from wholistic systems because prevailing wisdom says subjectivity taints observation. Consequently, Indigenous students often cast aside their natural inclination and lose interest.

    Wawatay is our way of addressing these issues.

  • red fabric string

Our name

  • Wawatay
  • We chose Wawatay as our name because we wanted to use an Indigenous word that was symbolic and meaningful. It didn’t hurt that the Anishinaabe name for northern lights was easy to pronounce and felt good to say.

    No matter the language, the phenomenon of the Northern Lights inspires wonder and awe. While science can explain aspects like the colours and when it appears, there’s a mysterious spiritual aspect too.

    The Northern Lights take a common experience, in this case, a dark night sky, and let us view it in new ways. By embracing traditional ways and blending Indigenous knowledge with western scientific research, teaching, and learning, the Wawatay program does the same.

    Wawatay: Thinking Beyond…Together.

Traditional territories acknowledgement

The University of Manitoba campuses are located on original lands of Anishinaabeg [ah-nish-in-ah-bek], Ininewuk [in-i-nuh-wuk], Anisininewuk [un-shin-i-wuk], Dakota Oyate [oh-yah-tay] and Denesuline [deh-nay-sue-li-nay], and on the National Homeland of the Red River Métis.

We respect the Treaties that were made on these territories, we acknowledge the harms and mistakes of the past, and we dedicate ourselves to move forward in partnership with Indigenous communities in a spirit of reconciliation and collaboration.

Our office

Wawatay - Faculty of Science
W230, Duff Roblin, 190 Dysart Rd
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 2M8 Canada

Our office is open Monday to Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.