Debates of the Senate  
  2nd Session, 39th Parliament,Volume 144, Issue 12.
    Thursday, November 15, 2007
Aboriginal Representation in Post-Secondary Sciences
  Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, in October I was one of the keynote speakers at the Canadian Aboriginal Science and Technology Conference held in Calgary. I spoke about the areas of post-secondary study and the gaps in the numbers of Aboriginals, especially women, specializing in the sciences compared to non-Aboriginals. The data that I analyzed came from the 2001 Canadian census, and I focused on Saskatchewan.

The area chosen most frequently for study by both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, aged 25 to 44, was that comprised of the applied science technologies and trades. The two areas chosen least often were the engineering and applied sciences and the mathematical, computer and physical sciences.

The percentage of Aboriginals who specialized in the engineering, mathematical and physical sciences was markedly less than that of the non-Aboriginal population. Only 0.5 per cent of the Aboriginals, compared to 2.1 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population, chose to specialize in the engineering and applied sciences; and only 0.7 per cent of the Aboriginal population, compared to 2.4 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population, specialized in the mathematical, computer and physical sciences.

In addition, men and women made different choices in their areas of study and there were similar patterns in the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations. In both populations, men chose the applied technologies and trades at about 10 times the rate for women; and men also studied most sciences at much higher rates than women, except for the health sciences where women dominated. However, what was surprising was the relatively greater under-representation of Aboriginal women compared to non-Aboriginal women in the engineering, mathematical, computer and physical sciences.

My key messages were: Aboriginals were under-represented in the physical sciences mathematics, computer science, physical and engineering sciences compared to non-Aboriginals; and while it is well known that women are under-represented in the physical sciences, the gender gap was even more pronounced in the Aboriginal population.

What accounts for this low percentage of Aboriginals, especially Aboriginal women, specializing in these sciences? Many theories have been advanced, and it is generally accepted that a lack of role models and an unwelcoming or unfriendly educational environment are important factors. The environment apparently still favours white males.

Honourable senators, the statistics that I presented reinforce the idea that achieving educational equity for Aboriginals and for women in the engineering, mathematical, computer and physical sciences will require improving and even transforming the educational environment to ensure that every student can succeed and achieve his or her full potential.