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Kahnawake wins big at Indigenous Science Fair

Kiyedinaci Ottereyes-Lahache riled up the crowd at the Quebec Indigenous Science Fair. Courtesy Quebec Indigenous Science Fair

Grade five Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa student Kiyedinaci Ottereyes-Lahache went to the Quebec Indigenous Science Fair in Gatineau last Thursday hoping to impress – both with his dapper burgundy velvet suit, and with his project, “The Science of Scents.”  

And impress he did, netting both the first-place prize in his age category and a special award for communication – awards that come with combined prize winnings of $1,000. 

“The first time they called my name I was like, ‘Oh my God, life can’t get any better.’ Then they called my name a second time, and I thought ‘Oh, life can get better!’” Ottereyes-Lahache said. “Everyone at school is calling me the champ and calling me the king. And asking me what I’m going to do with my $1,000.”  

Ottereyes-Lahache said his first purchase will be a new cologne, in keeping with his scent-based science project, which sought to examine the difference between natural and synthetic scents.  

His father, Justus Polson-Lahache, said he was impressed by how well-represented Kahnawake was at the fair. 

“It’s great, because kids get to see more opportunities in the field of science,” he said. “The things they learn at school can take them different places, and I think that was an eye-opener for him to be able to see that, the practicality of homework and studying and researching is actually transforming into this opportunity.” 

Iotenharí:io Lahache, also a Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa student, took home the second-place prize and $350 in the grade seven category for her project “Seaweed Bioplastic.”  

Older students at Kahnawake Survival School (KSS) also won big. Kanonhkwí:ne Goodleaf won first place in the grade eight and nine category for her project “The Power of Pine Needles,” bagging a $500 prize and the chance to take her research to the Canada-wide Science Fair, taking place this May in Ottawa.  

In the grade 10 and 11 category, KSS student Tekaweientehtáhkwen Diabo was also a winner, coming home with $200 and a third-place award for her project “Sooty Suds,” which she had won first place for at KSS earlier in February. 

Diabo, who has aspirations of one day becoming a scientist herself, had a particularly fun time at this year’s Indigenous Science Fair. She made soap out of ash, considering traditional processes and ingredients.  

“It was completely from scratch. There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of experimentation, and there were definitely times I wanted to give up, but my parents encouraged me to continue,” she said.  

Marc Lalande, president-treasurer of the Quebec Indigenous Science Fair said the committee was highly impressed with Kahnawake’s contributions this year.  

“Students are getting more and more confident” he said. “Every year the students come and compete, and they do great work to win prizes.”  

“We hope that it’ll carry on and that Kahnawake will participate in the next Indigenous science fair because they’re all examples for other Kahnawake students.” 

Lalande said that the goal of the fair, which started in 1998, is to help Indigenous students realize that there’s a place for them in science. That was true for Diabo, who was inspired by one of the fair’s judges, Innu astronomer Laurie Rousseau-Nepton, the first Indigenous woman in Canada to get a PhD in astrophysics.  

“She said that when she was a little girl, she wanted to be an astronomer, and she said, ‘I wish someone had said that to me, had told me I could actually be an astronomer when I was younger,’” Diabo said. “That really stuck with me. I really want to be a scientist, I want to be something for the community, like a role model for younger people.” 

For Wahéhshon Whitebean, Diabo’s mother, seeing her daughter take her first steps to one day fulfilling her dream of being a scientist is exciting. 

“I’m really proud, and I’m kind of in awe of all of the kids,” she said. “I’m just happy and relieved to see her shining in her element. And it’s something she did all on her own.” 

At one point during the science fair, Whitebean looked over at Diabo’s project, which a group of younger girls had stopped to look at. 
“It was really beautiful, there were a bunch of little girls around her booth, and they were all talking to her about her project, and their eyes were all lit up,” she said. “I told her, ‘Did you see how encouraged those little girls were, how excited they were about your work?’ It was so cool.”  

A full recording of the award ceremony can be found on the Quebec Indigenous Science Fair YouTube channel.  

evedcable@gmail.com 

This article was originally published in print on March 29 in issue 33.13 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.