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Biiwaabko Nimosh: Taking us places



The students of the Wikwemikong High School Science class and robotics team at meet NASA mechanical engineer Aaron Yazzie on January 19, 2023.

By Walter Quinlan

WIIKWEMKOONG UNCEDED TERRITORY — Could someone from Wikwemikong High School work at NASA? “Yes, of course, for sure!” replied NASA mechanical engineer Aaron Yazzie when he virtually met with the robotics team and science students this January.

Yazzie is Diné (Navajo) who grew up amongst the canyons and pastel-coloured mesas of northeastern Arizona. He studied at a small-town public school and went to Stanford University on a scholarship.

Since 2008, Yazzie has worked at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, designing mechanical systems for their robotic space search missions. He is part of the team that designed and built “Perseverance” – the Mars Land Rover.

It was a journey with challenges.

“When I left my home to go to Stanford, that was a big culture shock, and I had a lot to learn,” he said. “I sought out study groups, peer groups, and extra time with my professors.”

Yazzie’s story inspired the students.

“It’s not every day that you get to meet someone like Aaron,” said Baybee Bryant. “I like that he kept trying and trying.”

The robotics team from Wiikwemkoong has a proud tradition. Established in 2015, they reached the FIRST Robotics world championships in 2019, winning the prestigious Chairman’s Award.

Every January, FIRST Robotics releases a game worldwide. Teams spend time doing strategic analysis, developing a game plan, and designing and building a robot to effectively play the game.

“These are large-scale industrial robots,” explained Chris Mara, Wikwemikong High School science teacher and robotics team coach. “They weigh 125 lbs and can travel 15 feet per second.”

Wiikwemkoong’s robot is the “Biiwaabko Nimosh” (Iron Dog), named by the grandmother of the first robotics team captain Annie Wemigwans, Julie Wemigwans.

Yazzie and the students found that they have a lot in common.

“The things I do in my job every day are very similar to what they are doing now: design parts and mechanisms,” he said.

The team recently completed their design work for this year’s FIRST Robotics competition. They are now building a robot that must pick up and place objects on a scale of low, medium, and high difficulty,” said robotics team member Zander Shawongonabe. “There will also be a balance test, and “we have to park it while it moves.”

“We’re all one team,” said Pahquis Trudeau. “But we work in smaller groups and we all have our specialties.”

Aaron agrees with this approach.

“Engineering isn’t just about being smart at math and science. It’s about being creative, working together on a large team, and becoming a well-rounded leader,” he said.

Teamwork is about problem-solving, too.

“Problems that seem impossible but that the students are working out,” said Aaron, citing electronics as an example.

“There are lots of wires in a big robot,” Zander said.

The idea to bring Aaron to Wiikwemkoong originated with Dominic Beaudry of Science North’s Indigenous Advisory Committee and funding was provided by the Ministry of Education. Matthew Graveline, an outreach staff scientist at Science North, hopes there will be more opportunities for Aaron to visit the north.

This year at Wiikwemkoong, they face a new challenge.

“There are no veterans on the robotics team,” said Mr. Mara.

Still, the team of engineers and scientists can count on a coach proud of their courage and openness to take on any challenge that may come their way.

For Pahquis Trudeau, the robotics team is part of his long-term learning path.

“I want to take mechanical engineering in the future,” he said. “And why not take this opportunity to learn about mechanics and robotics?”

And for Zander Shawongonabe, “the best of all is building the robot. It’s amazing, very cool. It makes me feel like ‘We built that,’ and hopefully, it takes us places.”

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Mikinakoos Children’s Fund launches $15,000 fundraiser for GivingTuesday




Mikinakoos Children’s Fund aims to raise $15,000 to provide vital winter clothing to 18 First Nations, collaborating with the KO First Nations, Keewaytinook Internet Highschools, and Fort Hope First Nation on GivingTuesday on November 28, 2023. – Photo supplied

THUNDER BAY (November 22, 2023) — Mikinakoos Children’s Fund, an Indigenous children’s charity providing essentials to youth in remote First Nations in Northwestern Ontario, is announcing the launch of a special fundraiser in recognition of GivingTuesday.

In alignment with the global GivingTuesday movement, Mikinakoos Children’s Fund aims to raise $15,000 to provide vital winter clothing to 18 First Nations, collaborating with the KO First Nations, Keewaytinook Internet Highschools, and Fort Hope First Nation. The initiative seeks to purchase over 1,500 coats for children in these regions, ensuring they are equipped to brave the harsh winter months.

“The winter season can be particularly challenging in the remote areas we serve, where many children lack access to proper winter gear,” said Mikinakoos Executive Director Emily Shandruk. “Mikinakoos Children’s Fund believes that every child deserves the warmth of hope during the colder months. With this in mind, we’re launching this crucial campaign to make a positive impact.”

Recent support from TD Canada Trust’s Ready Commitment Funding, a $50,000 grant over two years, is boosting Mikinakoos Children’s Fund’s Warm Clothing initiatives, of which this initiative is a part. With growing requests from various communities and organizations, Mikinakoos’ GivingTuesday funding alone wouldn’t have sufficed. Thanks to the extra support, the charity can now ensure that no child is left without essential resources.

GivingTuesday, which falls on November 28, marks the opening day of the giving season—a global movement encouraging people to come together for a day of generosity and positive change. Mikinakoos invites individuals and organizations alike to join in the effort to make a difference.

Here’s how you can contribute:

Donate: Your contribution, regardless of size, will bring Mikinakoos Children’s Fund closer to its $15,000 goal. Every dollar counts. GivingTuesday falls on November 28; however, this fundraiser will run until December 31.
Spread the Word: Share our campaign on social media, with friends, family, and colleagues. Together, we can make a wider impact.

“The remoteness of the communities we serve presents challenges in shipping and distributing necessities, such as food, sporting equipment, and winter gear, especially with the absence of permanent roads,” said Shandruk. “Climate change has further exacerbated the inconsistency of ice road conditions, making the delivery of essential items even more difficult.”

Please consider contributing to Mikinakoos Children’s Fund’s GivingTuesday campaign through this link or by texting “WARMCOATS” to 807-500-1522. Interviews with spokespeople from Mikinakoos Children’s Fund are available upon request.

About Mikinakoos Children’s Fund

Mikinakoos Children’s Fund is a charity created to address poverty by providing basic amenities, such as food, clothing, and shelter to First Nations children residing in remote communities. Join us on this journey to create positive change and secure the safety and wellbeing First Nations children. Engage with Mikinakoos Children’s Fund on social through #FirstNationKidsFirst.


Victoria Belton
Senior Consultant
Media Profile
Tel: 416-992-5179

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