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Dechinta Rivers project to combine Indigenous land-based learning with canoeing adventure

The dean of the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning discusses the school's upcoming summer-semester project taking place on three rivers in the Northwest Territories
  • Mar 13, 2017
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Eight weeks, three rivers, 60 participants and more than 15 educational courses about Indigenous skills and knowledge. This summer the Canada 150-funded project known as Dechinta Rivers will bring northern students and elder professors together on what promises to be an amazing learning adventure.

The Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, which organized the program, is a school located 90 kilometres east of Yellowknife in Yellowknives Dene First Nation territory which provides northern Indigenous land-based learning experiences for students of all ages. Erin Freeland Ballantyne, one of Dechinta’s founding members and its current dean, discusses the project below.

On the Dechinta Rivers expedition

Dechinta will hold three simultaneous semesters on three culturally significant rivers in the north — the Peel River, the Mackenzie River (Dehcho) and the Horton River — from July to August. These three rivers touch on all regions in the Northwest Territories. The goal of the project is to think about this land before confederation: what happened on these rivers in terms of Indigenous governance, treaties and other important stories related to the rivers and the communities near them. The rivers are also part of really important watersheds, which all flow into the Arctic Ocean. So really, the rivers will bring us together to have conversations about these places before they were Canada, and also how we want the next 150 years and beyond to look like.

On student participation and learning

There are 60 participants, 20 on each river paddling the full length. Then we’re hosting more than 15 one-week community courses along each river, especially the Mackenzie, which will see upwards of 40 to 50 people at each. These courses will happen in every community and at the beginning and ending of every river and on the Mckenzie, they’re happening along the river. They are place-specific, so going over the history, land claims, language and practices of the place where we are. For example, on the Mackenzie, we’re doing a moose hide tanning camp. All of the courses are part of the degree stream at Dechinta.

At the beginning of March, there’s going to be a national call-out for Canadian students and new Canadian students from across the country to join northern Indigenous students on this journey. It’s going to be a really diverse group of students on the rivers supported by a stellar faculty of Indigenous elder professors and Indigenous professors that are experts in their respective fields.

On the Canada 150 discussion

We’re really trying to insert ourselves in this Canada 150 discussion, to learn and convey all the critical things that happened in these regions that shaped this relationship even being possible. For example, how critical treaty was, how critical Indigenous philosophy and governance was to what became confederation and where do we go from here. It’s going to be really epic.

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