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Dechinta receives $500,000 from feds
Students to paddle across North next summer through new program

Kirsten Fenn
Northern News Services
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A local land-based teaching centre is taking students to the waters next summer in a hands-on approach to reconciliation in the North.

NNSL photo/graphic

The Dechinta Bush University Centre for Research and Learning received a $500,000 Canada 150 grant in October to host three eight-week river expeditions this summer that focus on reconciliation. - photo courtesy of Erin Freeland Ballantyne

Dechinta Bush University Centre for Research and Learning is set to begin a new program called Rivers of Reconciliation that will take 50 students across the territories on outdoor canoeing expeditions that mix learning and adventure.

"The river is really something that connects everybody," said Erin Freeland Ballantyne, Dechinta's dean of land-based academics, research and innovation.

"Students from across the North, with students from across the country, will be heading out on eight-week river expeditions together, doing courses on critical Northern issues and convening talking circles about what reconciliation in the next 150 years means to them."

Dechinta offers university-accredited, land-based courses focused on the North. Classes take place at a remote learning centre without road access. The curriculum touches on a variety of things from environmental sustainability to indigenous politics.

Rivers of Reconciliation kicks off next July and August in the form of three paddling expeditions.

The federal government has supported the project with $500,000 from the Canada 150 Fund, which supports community projects across Canada in the lead-up to the country's 150th birthday celebrations in 2017.

"We're really excited to be able to have so much time on the rivers together," Freeland Ballantyne said. "Each trip is going to pass through really different ecosystems."

Participants will traverse the Northwest Territories by way of the Mackenzie River, explore the Yukon's Peel River and paddle through Nunavut on the Thelon River, north of Baker Lake.

The three rivers were chosen to match a variety of skill levels as well as showcase different cultures, Freeland Ballantyne said.

Each expedition team will stop for week-long camps in communities along the route between Fort Providence and Inuvik, where they'll be able to engage with the people who live there.

"There will be opportunities for community members to come and join us for these camps, as well as we'll be working with communities to host celebrations in the communities that the trip will be passing through, especially in the Deh Cho," Freeland Ballantyne said.

Besides offering an alternative classroom setting, Rivers of Reconciliation will provide students with fundamental skills for an emerging indigenous eco-tourism sector, Freeland Ballantyne said.

They will take four courses on leadership, indigenous self-determination, sustainable communities and water, as well as learn about sustainability, governance and history.

Students will also come out of the program with basic certificates in first aid, guiding and paddling and will be working on interactive assignments that involve blogging as well as producing short videos and podcasts while on the water.

"We're really trying to have it be as interactive as possible for the rest of Canada to really see what's happening on this trip and be involved in this conversation," Freeland Ballantyne said.

While the program is designed for students 18 years and older, it isn't exclusively for young people. Elder professors, cultural leaders and families are encouraged to join.

Freeland Ballantyne said an open call for teacher nominations will go out to each NWT region after registration for the program opens in December.

"It's a real intergenerational sort of flotilla that will be happening," she said.

The Canada 150 funding lasts only for the summer, supporting the costs of travel and paying the salaries of teachers.

But Freeland Ballantyne hopes it will serve as a springboard for the program to become a permanent fixture for people from around the country to learn about the North in the future.

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