Dechinta, an N.W.T. land-based aboriginal learning centre, is partnering with the University of British Columbia to offer northern students course credits from the university, and allow southern students to come to the northern "bush university."

Based on Blachford Lake, near Yellowknife, Dechinta has been offering its unique program for six years — mixing academic lectures with traditional aboriginal practices, including fish drying, moosehide tanning and cooking muskox.

Glen Coulthard, a professor at UBC, has regularly taught courses there over the years, but under a new agreement, he'll now spend half his teaching time at Dechinta.

"I had been working with Dechinta off the side of my desk since its inception," Coulthard said. "It was taking a lot of time out of my own research and teaching schedule."

Coulthard, a member of the Yellowknives Dene, says he'll likely teach his course on Dene self determination, which looks at the history of the First Nation.

Glen Coulthard UBC professor

Glen Coulthard at Dechinta in 2013. The UBC professor has regularly taught courses there over the years, but under a new agreement, he'll now spend half his teaching time at the learning centre. (credit Leanne Simpson)

"And then, I'm not sure what they have in store for me," he laughs.

University credits

Dechinta already has an affiliation with the University of Alberta — this new partnership with UBC will try to establish an accreditation for students from the North who want to get credits transferred to UBC.

"So we have to do it right," Coulthard said. "That's really important for me to make sure that students are supported.

"To cut back on the alienation and these other sorts of barriers that students tend to experience when they go south for university."

The hope is that the accreditation will work both ways, and students from the south can also go to Dechinta and earn credits from UBC.

"I like the idea of community-based collaborative learning," Coulthard said.

"Taking students out of the classroom and having them experience an educational program that's really kind of directed by and with elders and community, and really draws learnings from the land into their education. It's really difficult to do that in a classroom."

Coulthard said ideally Dechinta will one day be a degree-granting institution on its own, so students don't have to leave the North in order to obtain a post-secondary education.