Dechinta promises a new approach to learning, uniquely grounded in northern traditions and melding Western academic goals with aboriginal values, but it is now trying something new.
For the first time, Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning took its show on the road for a recruitment drive, stopping on the Hay River Reserve on Dec. 3 after a trip to Fort Smith and before heading to Fort Simpson the following day.
“We would really like to see people sign up for the winter/spring semester,” said land-based learning leader Mandee McDonald. “In general, we’re just trying to promote our program.”
Dechinta offers University of Alberta accredited courses, such as political science and environmental sciences, but all in a land-based environment. The idea is to combine best educational practices to allow graduates to walk in two worlds. The majority of the on-the-land activities take place at Blachford Lake Lodge, a 20-minute flight from Yellowknife.
McDonald said the aim of the recruitment drive is to sign up at least 10 students for the semester beginning in mid-March, but she also sees it as an opportunity to get the message about the centre out to a wider public.
“Most of the students have come to us through word of mouth,” she told The Hub. “Not that many people in the territory know it exists.”
She noted the turnout at the Chief Lamalice Complex on the evening of Dec. 3 was impressive, with nearly 20 people – both young and old – coming out to see the presentation.
High school student Shayne Fabian said he had heard about the programming out in the bush and wanted to know more.
“I like being out on the land,” he said. “It’ll maybe be an option in a couple of years. I’d probably check it out.”
Scott Shannon said he heard about the presentation and thought it might be interesting. Shannon said he is thinking about applying for the next semester and enjoys working outside.
“It seems like a really good opportunity,” he said.
Although tuition is roughly $7,000 per student, McDonald was emphatic when she told the people gathered at the complex that there were systems in place to help students access both government and private funding for their studies. Except for a rare case, she said the vast majority of students don’t pay out of pocket for the program.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” said K’atlodeeche First Nation Chief Roy Fabian.
“There’s a lot of young people getting an English education and they have no idea what it’s like to be Dene,” he said. “Dechinta’s whole concept is from the land, and it’s about trying to bring them out and teach them traditional skills, knowledge and beliefs.”
Fabian also noted that Western and traditional cultures are continuously in a state of antagonism, but said he believes Dechinta’s program will help reduce that.
“There’s a real clash between the two cultures,” the chief said. “Young people really need to learn about their culture and that’s what these people are trying to do.”