The First Peoples Innovation Centre launched the first Indigenous fabrication laboratory in Canada, called FabLab Onaki, to train Native youth on the most innovative technologies of the 21st century. The grand opening took place on November 26 at the FPIC in Gatineau. In attendance were representatives from the City of Gatineau, funding agents such as Employment Canada, and Indigenous chiefs and dignitaries. Also on hand were graduates of the pilot program, which started in June. They spoke about what they learned in the program and the skills they acquired. In fact, the top two students were hired as assistant instructors for the next group.

FPIC Executive Director Céline Auclair said the centre was founded in 2011 to support the development of social innovation and Indigenous technology. FabLab ONAKI is the perfect encapsulation of the FPIC’s mission. The laboratory employs instructors trained in the MIT FabLab method and Indigenous assistant instructors who come out of the FabLab ONAKI program, as well as contract instructors from other manufacturing laboratories, including Bombardier and various universities, who are chosen based on their specific programs and specialties. Directed at Indigenous youth between the ages of 16–30, the FabLab program welcomes students from anywhere in the country.

The program is divided into two parts:

Days start with discussions on identity pride and reappropriation of Indigenous culture, which has a rich, millennia-long history

The afternoon is for learning 21st century technologies. Student are taught to use cutting-edge, high-tech fabrication equipment, such as 3D printers, laser cutters and computer numerical control machines. With these devices, students can produce prototypes and pieces using digital software. “The participants are initiated to high-tech equipment with a traditional approach,” explained Auclair, adding that courses are taught hands-on rather than in a classroom setting. Students are directly shown how to operate the equipment, an approach that has been immensely successful with Indigenous youth.

Many of them haven’t finished high school, but are gaining cutting-edge tech industry expertise. The next phase of the project is to set up a mobile FabLab that would bring the education and skills to youth in their home communities. The FabLab Onaki is funded by Employment and Social Development Canada.