SASKATOON -- About 200 Indigenous students, teachers and professionals are taking part in a science, technology, engineering and math conference at the University of Saskatchewan.

Co-organizer John Desjarlais, who grew up in the Cumberland House and is an engineer, said Saskatchewan needs more Indigenous people in those areas.

“In a province like ours, representation is incredibly poor. About 16 per cent of the population of Saskatchewan is Indigenous, however there’s only one or two percent Indigenous people in my profession.”

Kindergarten through Grade 12 students as well as post-secondary students and some teachers are learning about STEM fields and careers. Delegates are coming from across Canada and the United States.

Another organizer, Micheala Merasty, a third year environmental biology student from Pelican Narrows, has always been interested in biology, she said. Having this opportunity to meet other people like her is invaluable.

“I loved biology as far back as I can remember. I would bring home frogs and one time my mom came home and there were 30 frogs in the tub.”

She wasn’t sure how I could further this love of biology until she found out about a program in environmental science. She wanted to be a part of this conference so that representation of Indigenous people in her field and other areas would increase.

This is the first time the conference has been held in Saskatchewan. The idea was modelled after a similar event in the U.S. Two other such conferences have been held in Canada and delegates from Saskatchewan have attended. They wanted to bring the opportunity here and showcase Saskatchewan’s strengths in the four disciplines.

Organizer Julia Doucette-Garr, a third-year physics student from English River First Nation, hopes this event will help others realize their strengths.

“I was interested in sciences, but I was never submerged into that environment and I feel that’s very important for Indigenous youth to hear, 'hey you’re smart enough to do this. I believe in you.'”

It's crucial for Indigenous people to see themselves represented in the fields like science and math so they have role models and know they can achieve success too, she said.

The conference runs through to Sunday.