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Inspiring the next generation of Indigenous scholars

Ten early scholars from across Canada got the chance to experience hands-on graduate-level research at McMaster thanks to an intensive research training program hosted by the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute (MIRI).

The 2023 IndigiNerd cohort (from left to right) Emma Sissenah, Kayla Shaganash, Jersee Hill, Jayden Rivers, Jessica Campus, IndigiNerds program coordinator Katelyn Knott, Jenni Makahnouk, Autumn Lewis, Flavie Dupont-Fournier, Justice Ryan and Sara Montour. (Photo by Christian Braun/McMaster University).

IndigiNerds, an eight-week program, helps guide Indigenous undergraduates as they prepare for graduate studies by offering mentorship, support and inspiration.

In addition to conducting research, scholars take part in workshops and Indigenous Knowledge programming — all part of the program’s wider goal to contribute to the success of Indigenous researchers.

The program, formerly known as the Indigenous Undergraduate Summer Research Scholars (IUSRS) program, is now in its ninth year.

“IndigiNerds gives these students the confidence to pursue graduate studies,” says Katelyn Knott, the program coordinator and research coordinator for MIRI. “It’s amazing to see what our participants have gone on to do and the impact they are now having on the world. I can’t wait to see what this newest cohort accomplishes.”

This year’s program concluded with an event on June 30th that saw participants present their research and share their work.

Learn more about the critical research presented by three of this year’s Indigenous scholars below.


Hill is a third-year student in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster (Photo by Christian Braun/McMaster University)

Hill, a Mohawk and member of Six Nations of the Grand River, took on two research projects during her time in IndigiNerds.

Working under the supervision of associate professor Rick Monture and post-doctoral fellow Daniel Cameron, Hill investigated how cultural familiarity affects perception of musical rhythms, as well as how music workshops can support intercultural relationships.

“I’m hoping that my research will contribute to expanding our understanding of music, as well as how it may be used to build and foster relationships with members of other cultures, not just our own,” says Hill.

She adds that she hopes her work serves to inspire other Indigenous youth to pursue research in areas they find interesting.

“[IndigiNerds] made me more confident in my decision to pursue graduate studies, as well as just being an Indigenous student in university,” says Hill, who intends to study clinical psychology at the graduate level.

“Being in such a supportive environment with other goal-driven Indigenous students made me excited to be there. It was comforting to meet and hear from others who are going through similar things as me. I truly appreciate the time I got to spend with them.”


Montour recently graduated from McMaster with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Studies and minor in Anthropology and Gender Studies (Photo by Christian Braun/McMaster University).

Montour, a Mohawk and member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, explored queer culture on Six Nations as part of her research with IndigiNerds 

Working under the supervision of assistant professor Ki’en Debicki, Montour says she learned the dynamics of conducting research in an area where there isn’t a lot of coverage by diving deep into archives, libraries and online databases.

Outside of research, Montour says getting to know fellow participants through the program’s social and cultural activities was a highlight.

“One of my favourite parts was going to Chiefswood Park for the first weekend of the program,” says Montour. “It was such a great group of individuals and truly a unique experience getting to know everyone.”

“Overall, this was a very inspirational program and I loved every moment.”

Montour says she is hoping to apply for her Master’s in Indigenous studies at McMaster, and that IndigiNerds has helped show her a path forward.

“I’m a first-generation attendee and graduate of post-secondary education so whether it was my undergrad or graduate school, this program showed me I belong in academia as much as everyone else.”


Sissenah is a fourth-year student in Algoma University’s Law & Justice Program. (Photo by Christian Braun/McMaster University).

Sissenah, who is Anishinaabe and from Sagamok Anishnawbek (located on the north shore of Lake Huron), conducted research into a government-imposed starvation policy that aimed to control the movements of First Nations and Métis in the 1880s.

Working under the supervision of associate professor Robert Innes, Sissenah examined Indian Affair annuity lists to better learn the movements of people in Cypress Hills (southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta) and to better estimate a death toll.

“By examining this policy and the consequences of it, we hope to prove that a genocide occurred because of the policy enactment by the Canadian Government,” says Sissenah.

The Algoma University student is studying for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and hopes to practice Indigenous/Treaty Law one day.

She says the practical skills she gained, as well as the personal experiences she had as an IndigiNerd has prepared her to continue on with research and to go on to graduate school.

“I learned so much traditional knowledge through the elders, presentations, guest speakers and trips to Six Nations that I am so happy to have gained and experienced,” says Sissenah. “My personal favourite memory was meeting and talking to Elder Bertha Skye who shared many stories about her fabulous life, as well as encouraging words that I will hold onto.”

“I am very lucky to have had this opportunity as it pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone which has allowed me to grow in so many ways as an individual.”

To learn more about the IndigiNerd program, visit the McMaster Indigenous Research Insititute (MIRI) website

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