Dallas Pelly

The Science of Success: Dallas Pelly Inspires STEM Dreams

“I got on a bus down to California and I knew by that point, I'm not just going to be confined to my reserve, my community. I'm going to get out there. I'm gonna make a mark on the world.” That was an early defining moment for Dallas Pelly, whose spirit name is Little White Eagle. From the Bear Clan, his mom is from Cote First Nation and his dad is from Beardy's & Okemasis' Cree Nation. Born in Saskatoon where he now lives, he spent some time living on reserve but considers himself a city native. He works with Canadian Light Source, a national research facility.  

When he was a high school student, Pelly didn’t excel in his studies or apply himself. After he graduated, he worked with youth for a number of years until his wife encouraged him to get a degree. He applied as a mature student to the Indigenous Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan and got in. 

He thrived there and made the dean’s list with his excellent grades. He graduated with his bachelor of education but realized during his internship that the classroom environment was too rigid for him. Instead, he worked with TakingItGlobal and created the CreatetoLearn program. Later, he applied to Canadian Light Source, never believing he was smart enough to be hired and thinking his low high school science grades would work against him. 

 “I have learned a lot of the science but a lot of what I'm doing is connecting with Indigenous people, and Indigenous science and realizing that I am a scientist, even though I don't, in a Western way, think of myself as a scientist. We, as Indigenous people, have been doing science since before Columbus ever arrived on our shores, we were scientists,” he reflects. Through his work, he’s rediscovering his scientific ancestry and bringing it forward to his daily life.  

"We, as Indigenous people, have been doing science since before Columbus ever arrived on our shores, we were scientists"

In his work, Pelly is on a mission. “I want to inspire as many Indigenous young people to consider STEM education, STEM learning initiatives, to take sciences … because it's a huge market, and there's a huge need for Indigenous people… We want to get that message out there that, even though it doesn't seem like you belong in the space, you certainly do and there's certainly space to grow in that way,” he encourages. 

Thinking of his advice for students thinking about leaving their home communities to study or travel, Pelly thought about how after years of having been rooted in his parents’ communities, coming back to the cities was jarring. Transitioning from where he felt understood to colonized spaces was daunting and so he says, “never forget where you came from.” Pelly had shame about his Indigeneity growing up but he’s since found pride in his identity. He suggests spending time with elders and knowledge keepers to hear their stories and advice. 

He also advises “fake it till you make it” and go for the big opportunities. Being easy to work with and curious are traits that can help overcome challenges like missing formal credentials. “I think that with Indigenous people there's a huge need for us in every facet of the workplace so just put yourself out there,” he urges, recommending confidently approaching interviews as learning experiences. 

On the road, Pelly learned about different cultures and got to share his own. He learned to problem solve when flying into remote communities, a lot about himself and his traveling companions. “Traveling is one of the best things I ever did when I was young,” he affirms. 

Going to university as a parent, he struggled financially and worried about finishing with all the pressure of school and parenting. He reached out to his community in hard times, bringing his child to class when necessary. “It takes a community. Ask for help when you need it,” he asserts. He even got an extension when he hadn’t submitted the major project on time and saved himself tuition on retaking a class. 

If he could give his younger self advice it would be to apply himself in high school and learn without the pressures of bills and adult life. He also would suggest applying for scholarships as he could have received thousands of dollars if he had tried. 

To maintain his mental health, Pelly swears by his skincare routine. The rest of his day is about caring for his family and making money but when he takes care of his skin, that’s all about him. He feels confident and like he’s feeding his inner child treating himself to bougie skincare goodies. “We're always taught in our ways to give and to give and to give, but you can only give so much, you’ve gotta get a little too. You’ve got to treat yourself,” he shares.

When it comes to inspiration, Pelly looks to his three curious kids who are always learning, asking questions and so free with sharing their emotions. He tries to model that it’s okay to let their feelings out and together they explore the answers to their questions about the world. He didn’t witness that growing up and he’s trying to do things differently. 

To share inspiration with Indigenous youth, Pelly wants them to know that now is the time to be proud of who they are as Indigenous people and that this is a time where there is such appetite among Indigenous people to learn more about who we are. “Be inspired that you were put on this earth for a reason, that Creator created you specifically. You have gifts, you have abilities and you're coming into a workforce that acknowledges that,” he expresses. In his own workplace, Pelly has the opportunity to spend time in ceremony as part of his professional development and that seeking out language and culture is valued within a national science facility.

“I'm really excited for this next generation because I think they're coming into a place where walking in two worlds is valued and understood, and that they can live in both their Indigenous way but also in the Western way, and to walk in those ways in a good way,” he beams.

When he was 14, Dallas Pelly got onto a bus headed to California knowing he was going to make a mark on the world and he’s doing just that. Encouraging Indigenous youth to pursue careers in STEM, he’s creating waves of change. From struggling in science to finding his place in Indigenous science, he’s embodying lifelong learning at work and at home.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    May 7, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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