Introducing the First Cohort of the Indigenous Pathfinders in AI Program

Visual identity of the Indigenous Pathfinders in AI program.

Earlier this year, Mila and Indspire were thrilled to announce the call for applications for their new Indigenous Pathfinders in AI learning initiative.

Launched at Mila on May 29th, the program aims to provide participants with a unique opportunity to explore the world of AI, from its techniques to its potential and pitfalls. Through a combination of in-person and online learning sessions, activities and collaborative projects, they will delve deeper into the subject with a focus on Indigenous approaches, perspectives and communities. 

Pathfinders opening day with drumming from Rob Spade
Pathfinders opening day with drumming from Rob Spade

Now that this unique program is fully underway, we invite you to take a moment to get to know the exceptional members of our inaugural cohort joining us over the course of the summer to explore the world of AI. 

Meet the 2024 Cohort

Group picture of the ''Indigenous Pathfinders in AI'' 2024 cohort.
Wilderness Skills training with Iontionhnhéhkwen Wilderness Skills in Kahnawáke


Jackson Campo

The name I was given at birth is Jackson Campo. As of May last year, I am now proud to bear my Squamish name as well, Ts'áli7tn. I was born in Vancouver but grew up in Kelowna, British Columbia For most of my life, I hadn’t lived on First Nations land and did not have much exposure to my culture. It wasn’t until my father received his status that I started learning more about our culture and ancestry. The people of the Squamish Nation have welcomed our family with open arms and I am honoured to accept their teachings. 

I am just finishing my first year at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business.I want to understand the factors that enter decision-making in larger commercial organizations as compared to those that enter decision-making at the band level, and find a way to give back to my community by bridging the gap. Ultimately, I would like to see longevity in the benefits for a band’s future generations when negotiating and structuring commercial transactions - and part of that goal will be to raise the people. I believe that AI has a large role to play in closing that gap and I am excited to be a part of this first group of pathfinders.

Shannon Contois

Hello, my name is Shannon Contois. I’m a proud Red River Métis and Anishinaabe mother and grandmother from Winnipeg, Manitoba. My family is the heart and soul of my life, and they inspire me every day to be the best version of myself. As an aspiring IT professional, I am a lifelong learner, always ready to take on new challenges and expand my horizons.

My journey in the world of technology has been incredibly rewarding, and I am particularly passionate about the transformative potential of artificial intelligence and how it can leverage the gap within Indigenous people and tech. Recently, I've developed a real interest in the ethics and safety of AI, recognizing the importance of ensuring that these powerful tools are used responsibly and for the greater good.

Helping others is a core value that I hold dear, and I strive to make a positive impact in my community through my work and personal experiences. Whether it's simply lending a helping hand, I believe in the power of kindness and collaboration. I look forward to connecting with like-minded individuals who share my passion for family, technology, and making the world a better place.

Natasha Dinsmore

My name is Natasha, I am an Inuvialuit physics student at the University of British Columbia, and I am about to complete my Bachelor of Science this summer. The program at Mila comes at the perfect time, as I am very interested in pursuing a Masterin an AI-related field and I wanted to explore the area before deciding which direction to take. I am interested in the practical applications of AI, such as agricultural and environmental monitoring, but also the artistic applications! For example, we’ve already seen incredible progress on AI generated artwork, and I will be curious to see how this translates into 3D art and modelling, and how artists will use this as a tool to alter their workflow. I am very grateful and excited for this opportunity, not only for the academics, but to meet other indigenous students who are also interested in AI.

Aaron Eaglechild

I am a First Nations student at Seneca College, where I am studying Computer Programming and Analysis. My family is originally from the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta, but I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. I have a passion for exploring different cuisines and discovering new culinary experiences. With my diverse interests and a deep love for programming, I am dedicated to pursuing a career as a software developer.

Mary Gallerneault

I am a Métis PhD student in the Department of Mechanical & Materials Engineering at Queen’s University, where I also earned my master’s degree in Chemical Engineering. Returning to school after several years in industry, my research is in leveraging new technologies to enable and drive greater autonomy and creativity in materials manufacturing and processing. Outside my research, I am  to gain a more complete view of where AI may deliver value and drive positive change.

Garrett Hrechka

Hello, my name is Garrett Hrechka. I grew up in Dauphin, Manitoba which is located on Treaty 2 land, traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Assiniboine, Dakota, Dene Peoples, and homeland of the Métis Nation. I currently reside on the unceded territory of the Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples. I am a proud citizen of the Metis Nation. Rooted in a diverse family background, I draw immense pride from my Indigenous heritage, which I inherit from my father's side. I am currently pursuing a computer science degree at the University of Victoria. Beyond my academic endeavors, I am deeply passionate about hockey, a sport that has given me the incredible opportunity to compete in the National Indigenous Games representing Team Manitoba. My dedication to the sport has also led me to victory in the Manitoba Junior Hockey Championship, and I am proud to currently play for the University of Victoria Hockey team. When I'm not on the ice or immersed in my studies, I find comfort in nature, enjoying hikes and exploring the great outdoors.

Sativa Kawakami

I am a settler/Red River Métis woman born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Treaty One Territory). My research journey began five years ago, when I moved to Tio'tia:ke/Montreal to begin my BSc in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at McGill University. I majored in both plant biology and anthropology, interested in plant-human relations. This September, I will follow my research aspirations to York University, pursuing a Master of Environmental Studies (MES).

I am thrilled to participate in this year’s Indigenous Pathfinders in AI Program! I’m curious about the ways in which technology shapes our lives and our relations. More specifically, I  intend to help reveal technologies’ epistemic, ontological, and cosmological foundations, and the associated barriers that arise when most producers of a technology come from/work within White and Western contexts. Considering existing and emerging technologies, AI cannot be ignored in academic discourse, nor in everyday conversation.

Lhasa Lerat

Hey there, lovely people! I'm Lhasa Lerat (Lasa Lera), a member of Cowessess First Nation, and proud to be here at Mila. I'm all about embracing life with a big smile and a positive attitude.

A tech enthusiast at heart, I'm passionate about all things AI and machine learning. When I'm not diving into the world of technology, you can find me exploring the beauty of nature, spending quality time with my amazing kids, and cuddling up with my adorable grumpy pet bunny.

With a love for adventure and a thirst for knowledge, I'm beyond excited to be part of this incredible program and can't wait to see where this journey takes me. 

Ella Patel

Hi! My name is Ella Patel and I am Mohawk from Kahnawake, Indian and French Canadian. I was raised in Ottawa and am currently completing my Bachelor’s of Health Sciences at Queen’s University.

Lianna Rice

Atelihai ilonnasi! Hi everyone! Liannavunga- I'm Lianna, a Nunatsiavut Inuk from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. My tech journey flourished with a web development internship, where I gained the skills to code intuitive and visually appealing web experiences. Co-founding Mother Tongues Network, an Indigenous language learning app, and being influenced by the intergenerational impact of the residential school system, which severed my connection to my Inuttitut language, I'm deeply committed to enhancing the accessibility of Indigenous languages. With a background in the sciences, community work, and project management, along with deep values rooted in Indigenous rights, inclusion, equity, and accessibility, my work with MTN allows me to contribute meaningfully to future generations. I am excited about the possibilities that come with the Indigenous Pathfinders in AI Program and how I can use the skills and knowledge offered to contribute to strengthening the connection between Indigenous peoples and their mother tongues.

Savannah Sidle

I am a Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nations woman and LGBTQ2S+ community member, as well as a passionate scientist interested in organic, artificial, and exobiological life. My background in the evolution and function of human intelligence laid the groundwork for a Master's in Human-Computer Interaction at Carleton University, focusing on cognitive embodiment in artificial intelligence. I am actively involved with NASA's astrobiology initiatives, and aim to study life on habitable exoplanets using advanced AI systems. Over the next decade, I plan to further my education in astrophysics and theoretical physics while working on innovations in AI and astrobiology. In my leisure time, I specialize in the care of reptiles and amphibians, enjoy geology, and collect meteorite specimens.

Kowen Woo

I am currently in my second year of pursuing a Computer Science degree at the University of Alberta. My interests lie in the mathematical and programming side of artificial intelligence, with a particular focus on neural networks and deep learning techniques. Beyond academic endeavors, I find  fulfillment in various activities, including playing the piano and guitar, as well as engaging in sports like basketball, tennis, and badminton. I  eagerly anticipate immersing myself  in the pathfinders community and broadening his understanding of AI during the upcoming summer.