A view of the Tla’amin Nation’s fish traps, located on the Sunshine Coast. (The Tla’amin Nation)

How Indigenous stone-fish traps inspired a mathematical project

December 22, 2021

SFU teaching professor Veselin Jungic has spent the past decade growing Indigenous students’ enthusiasm for math with a unique program that connects mathematical concepts to Indigenous storytelling, history and tradition.

Jungic runs SFU’s Math Catcher Outreach Program, an initiative to help Indigenous youth improve their math skills for the overall enjoyment of mathematics.

His latest project involves the mathematical and computer modelling of traditional stone-fish traps, a customary way of harvesting fish that Indigenous people use across the Pacific Northwest. This initiative is a continuation of a previous collaboration with the Tla’amin Nation on the Sunshine Coast that featured traditional designs woven into cedar baskets to create geometric patterns.

“The mathematical model displays the tidal changes, fish flow, and different shapes of the stone traps to allow for an easy change of their sizes and positions,” says Jungic, recognized in 2015 as a 3M National Teaching Fellow.

“This free online learning resource is available to students, with a purpose to communicate cultural, engineering, environmental and mathematical ideas at the high school level on a global scale.”

This learning resource is now part of the national Callysto program, an online educational tool that helps students in elementary and high school learn about and apply data science skills.

The initiative is supported by SFU, the Tla’amin Nation, Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences and the Callysto Program.

Jungic’s collection of Indigenous Small Number math-learning stories, along with a series of 13 animated films, are available in Blackfoot, Cree, English, French, Gitxsan, Halq’eméylem, Heiltsuk, Hul’qumi’num’, Huu-ay-ah, Nisga’a, Spanish, Squamish, and Tla’amin/Sliammon languages.