Empowering Indigenous Learners with Tech Education

The cost of education is not just your tuition money, it is the cost of your books, and the cost of your transportation. ComIT’s founder Pablo understood the barriers that come from pursuing education in tech, and the employment barriers that exist between tech jobs, and Indigenous people. ComIT was able to partner with Google to launch the Recoding Futures program, a free online digital skills training program available to Indigenous learners across Canada. Due to this partnership, ComIT can support Indigenous learners like Jen. Jen is a young Two-Spirit Cree student from a remote reserve in Northern Manitoba currently living with their mom in Winnipeg. They first came across ComIT’s program through their mom, who saw a Facebook post promoting Recoding Futures.

“A free course for Indigenous people that I can do from home? Of course I signed up for that right away!”

Supporting Indigenous Education

Throughout their life, Jen had an interest in gaming and 3D animation. They also knew a thing or two about fixing up internet issues in their home, and refurbishing computers. Jen had dropped out early from school because of their anxiety. They spent five years on the reserve, working long hours in a community store, and taking online classes; with the support of their Grandpa, their grades improved over time. Although there was improvement, there were still times that studying felt out of reach.

Jen moved to Winnipeg, where they were able to get the care that they needed for their mental health, and it wasn’t until Jen took part in Recoding Futures’s intro classes that they developed a strong interest in studying. Each class was 2.5 hours, three days a week, and Jen quickly grew fond of the classes. They were amazed to be in classes with other Indigenous youth; which made them feel safe. They loved their instructor, who made it sound fun! At first, Jen enjoyed the social media intro course because of the capacity to design and create. But they quickly became drawn to coding.

“I liked that what you write looks like some robotic kind of language, and then it changes into something beautiful.”

“The coding was a very new and inspiring concept to me” they recall. “It’s a form of art, it allows me to create.” Their first project was an “about me” page, talking about Jens Indigenous background, and being Two-Spirit. Jen believes that with coding, they can express themselves in a way they couldn’t before.

Since those initial intro classes from Recoding Futures, Jen has developed a strong interest in studying. They have since taken two other coding classes, having learned a lot from the first and have since graduated; and will soon graduate from their second class.

In addition to ComIT’s courses, Jen has also enrolled in a program with Indigitech, designed for Indigenous individuals to develop a career in the tech field, with tutoring and opportunities for internships. As they’re spending their days jumping from one online class to another on a full-time schedule, things are starting to take shape.

Throughout their studies, they have made new friends, with shared experiences, and hopes for the future. A supportive circle of friends has been encouraging for Jen which motivated them to start talking about their awareness project for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two Spirit People (MMIWG2S).

The Power of Tech Education

Jen has taken what they have learned from their studies and has used it to give back to their people by helping bring awareness to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG2S) through a database they built. They describe it as a visual representation of what is happening in Canada. The database contains the names, and cases of Missing and Murdered Women and Girls; indicating whether or not their cases have been resolved. It has research detailing names, locations of disappearance, if they were found, their ages and is all organized by Treaty region. So far, the database contains sixty-five names, found in records, and articles of disappearances going back to the 70s. The goal of the database is to amplify Indigenous voices, so that their community doesn’t have to live in fear of being who they are.

“I have a one-year-old niece and I want her to be free, happy, and safe.”

In their past, Jen found their five years on the reserve very challenging. For them, coming to Winnipeg opened up many opportunities for their mental health and their education. They attribute ComIT’s founder, Pablo as being part of what helped them realize their potential, “Pablo really helped me to become aware of the things I can do. Pablo put that faith in myself. Now, I know I can help my people, I can create a space for other voices to be heard.” Jen plans to continue their studies in web development, and web design.

Jen encourages anyone to try an intro class, as they had so much fun and learned so much. All participants from the Recoding Futures program were Indigenous, but about half were women, and all ages were represented. The intro course is only one month long, giving students the basic tools they need to study independently. For those who would like to continue their students in tech, there are more classes available to take at ComIT. “I think everyone can do this, anyone able to use a smartphone has the ability to create something.”

At ComIT we believe in inclusivity. With Recoding Futures we help provide opportunities for Indigenous Learners to change their life. Our programs are tailored to the current labour market, to ensure that students are gaining valuable digital skills training to meet employment needs across the tech sector.
To learn more about ComIT’s Recoding Futures Program, visit: comit.org/recodingfutures

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