Yukon students learn coding, Indigenous history during hackathon in Whitehorse

Mayor Laura Cabott chats with students during the coding event in Whitehose on March 28. (Courtesy/Your Voice is Power)Mayor Laura Cabott chats with students during the coding event in Whitehose on March 28. (Courtesy/Your Voice is Power)
Mayor Laura Cabott attended the<em> Your Voice is Power</em> event with students in Whitehorse (Courtesy/Your Voice is Power)Mayor Laura Cabott attended the Your Voice is Power event with students in Whitehorse (Courtesy/Your Voice is Power)

About 80 students from St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Secondary School in Whitehorse participated at a live hackathon event as part of the 2023 Your Voice is Power, an educational program and remix competition that teaches coding skills to high school students using music from Indigenous artists.

The hackathon, held on March 28, was organized by Amazon Canada and TakingITGlobal, teaching the basics of computer science and coding while also engaging participants in discussions on the First Nations, Inuit and Métis experiences in Canada.

At the event, the students were joined Indigenous music artists Dakota Bear, Jayli Wolf and Samian.

Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott visited to take in the activities.

The students learned how to remix music using EarSketch, a code editor available in English, French, Ojibwe and Inuktitut.

Students were able to build coding skills while reflecting on topics like residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, according to a statement from organizers that noted the goal of the event is to encourage more students from diverse backgrounds to explore computer science.

A 2020 report from the Conference Board of Canada estimates that less than two per cent of people working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations are Indigenous.

The report says when educators use a culturally responsive curriculum — one that bridges Indigenous ways of knowing with Western science — Indigenous students are more engaged and perform better.

During its inaugural year in 2022, more than 5,000 students across Canada participated. Organizers said the program has expanded in 2023 to include new songs from artists Twin Flames and an enhanced curriculum that leverages music and technology as vehicles to promote social justice.

Cynthia Caglar, head of Amazon Future Engineer Canada, said they are committed to empowering children and young adults to learn new skills that will give them more opportunities.

Your Voice is Power gives students and teachers an introduction to coding while demonstrating how music and computer science can be tools to advance social justice,” she said. “Our goal is to help more young people — especially those from underrepresented backgrounds — develop a passion that can lead to exciting academic and career opportunities over the long term.”

A statement from the organizers said Your Voice is Power curriculum is available to teachers and students in Grades 7 through 12.

The curriculum, it said, was built by TakingITGlobal with extensive year-long collaborations that involved consultation and review.

The Cloud Innovation Centre at the University of British Columbia (UBC), a private/public collaboration between Amazon Web Services (AWS) and UBC, facilitated connections to Indigenous experts, students and alumni as well as to UBC faculty.

Your Voice is Power surpassed all expectations in 2022, as thousands of teachers and students across Canada showed tremendous enthusiasm for the opportunity to blend a unique technology learning experience with reflection on Indigenous and Canadian histories,” Anishinaabe educator Christine M’lot, who led curriculum development, said.

The goal this year, she said, is to add “new stories, experiences and music from First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists to engage new participants while allowing our previous cohort to continue to build their skills and discover the potential of computer science for their future education and career.”

Chelsey June, a singer from Twin Flames, said it’s an honour to have their music included in the program.

“By connecting young people with different perspectives on the Indigenous experience in Canada, the program shares our goal of using music to build bridges across cultures and with history,” she said. “Your Voice is Power is an opportunity to build important skills while reflecting on powerful stories, and we wish all participants a wonderful learning experience.”

Jayli Wolf, an Anishinaabe/Cree artist, said she’s excited to be part of the event because it’s “vital we close the gaps in the STEM economy for indigenous people. The program pushes Indigenous youth forward by focusing on education through the creative process of coding with music.”

Students who participated at the event will be encouraged to submit their remixes to a competition in which two winners — one Indigenous, one identifying as an ally — will receive $5,000 scholarships, donated by Amazon Music. Runners up will win $200 Amazon gift cards and $25 for honourable mentions while one excellent teacher will receive $1,000 for their remarkable instruction.

Amazon Music subscribers in Canada are able to stream an exclusive Your Voice is Power playlist featuring songs of artists who featured in the program.

Contact Patrick Egwu at patrick.egwu@yukon-news.com