Dechinta Bush University conducted a community outreach tour last week, including a stop in Hay River on Jan. 27.
The purpose was to share information about the programs and to recruit students for upcoming semesters, said Mandee McDonald, program manager with the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, the independent organization which offers the bush university.
The official deadline to apply was Jan. 31 for the next program that starts on April 10.
However, McDonald said it is not too late for people to get involved if they contact her right away.
“It’s flexible,” she said of the application deadline. “If people are interested, they can call me or e-mail me and let me know. If they really want to do the program, we’ll get them in there.”
McDonald explained that Dechinta Bush University offers university-accredited programming in two 12-week semesters a year.
“We do five university courses,” she said. “They’re land-based, which means the land is acknowledged as a primary teacher in the program. We do things like hunting, fishing, navigating on boats and canoes, and harvest traditional medicines. Elders and regional knowledge-holders and community leaders co-instruct all the courses with indigenous university professors.”
All the courses are accredited through the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, and through the University of British Columbia and McGill University.
“We offer enough courses right now for a complete minor in native studies, and we are building up our curriculum so that eventually we’d like to be able to offer enough courses that you can do a full university degree with us,” said McDonald, adding that the credits are transferrable to any Canadian university.
The main campus is at Blatchford Lake Lodge, about 92 km east of Yellowknife.
According to Dechinta Bush University’s website, students spend the first six to seven weeks of a semester onsite, working with elders and instructors, engaged in lectures and workshops, and participating in outdoor experiences. The majority of the on-site instruction takes place outdoors.
Following the time on-site, students return to their home or host communities to take on a five-week research, co-op or work placement.
The semesters cover such things as political history, self-determination, land claims and treaties, public speaking, storytelling, sustainable economic development, harvesting, leadership and communications.
The bush university began with a pilot semester in the summer of 2010.
Last week’s tour took McDonald to Fort Simpson, Fort Resolution and Fort Smith, along with Hay River.
“I got some applications, and I had a lot of conversations with people working in the band offices, education administrators, and a bunch of other people,” she said, “So it was good to spread the word.”
McDonald said she was pleased with the stop in Hay River at the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre.
“It went well,” she said. “We had three people show up for the presentation, and I was able to speak with a few people at K’atlodeeche during the day about the program. It was good.”