Self-discovery part of the curriculum in Yukon land-based college program

A Yukon College program based in Pelly Crossing is encouraging First Nation students to develop leadership skills on the land.

Yukon College program lets First Nation students develop leadership skills on the land

Participants in the Huchá Hudän Field School run out of the Yukon College campus in Pelly Crossing are in a month long program. (Yukon College)

Eight students are at the land-based Huchá Hudän Field School. The four week program, run through Yukon College's Pelly Crossing campus, includes hunting and fishing with the students travelling by water from Minto Landing to Fort Selkirk on a raft they've built.

They could also be in for some intense discussions along the way, according to one of the facilitators. The students will be in discussions led by Yellowknife-based Peyton Straker about colonization and decolonization.

They'll learn about how they lost their traditional culture, language and way of life, and will learn ways to recover them.

"I'm sure for a lot of people this could be the first time that they're exploring these ideas and these concepts, so that could be tough," said Straker, a member of Saskatchewan's Keeseekoose Soto First Nation.

She added, local Northern Tutchone elders will be on hand to talk about how that history played out in their own lives.

Travis Smarch at work on the river raft he and the other students will use on the Yukon River. (Yukon College)

From students to leaders

"We're living in a pretty heated political climate right now, there's young people that are here and I'm sure the conversations will be intense and a lot of the topics that we'll be exploring are pretty severe," she said.

Travis Smarch of the Carcross Tagish First Nation said he appreciates any opportunity to get away from civilization for awhile and learn from hands on experience.

"Learn some new things, listen to some music, learn some things from elders, have fun, go hunting," Smarch said of his expectations for the program.

"How my people used to live way back in the day."

The goal of the program is to give each student the skills and experience to become leaders, according to John Reid, department head for Yukon College's northern region.

"You know they're setting goals for themselves, they're achieving those goals, they're making steps forward in their lives," he said.

From left, Brendan Kneller, Matt Tom, Dylan McGinty and Travis Smarch begin the construction of a river raft. (Yukon College)

"In our communities those are the things we're looking for, for people to become involved and engaged in the community," said Reid.

He said it makes sense to base the program on the land instead of in a conventional classroom.

"Traditionally First Nation people lived on the land, they existed on the land, they lived on the land, so how do we take that concept and mold it within our institution," said Reid.

Reid said if it's successful it could become a model for similar college programs.

Smarch said it's an approach he likes.

"I don't have the patience for just sitting," he said.

With files from Leonard Linklater