Dechinta 'bush university' eyes expansion with 5 years of federal funding

The federal budget allocates $13 million to the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning.

New $13M in funding will make land-based education more accessible

Dechinta's students are taught by elders and university professors, as well as indigenous activists and artists. (

The Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning is planning to use $13 million in new federal money to diversify its programming across the North. The money was promised to the centre over the next five years in the 2019 federal budget.

"To date it's been fairly precarious, our funding situation," said University of British Columbia professor Glen Coulthard, who sits on the board of directors and faculty for Dechinta, otherwise known as the N.W.T.'s bush university.

Reliable funding will allow them to expand into other communities and continue to offer "cutting edge Indigenous land-based education," he said. 

"Our model is based on self-determination for students so that requires us to move into other areas and learn from the knowledge holders, elders and students in terms of their needs and aspirations for education across the North," Coulthard said.

Glen Coulthard at Dechinta in 2013. The UBC professor says the Dechinta model isn't a cookie cutter one. (credit Leanne Simpson)

Coulthard, a member of the Yellowknives Dene, said Dechinta plans to deepen its relationships with Dehcho region communities, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, and Indigenous communities in Yukon and Northern B.C.

"The important thing, is that land-based education is kind of dependent on the expertise of elders and community members, grounded in land and place," Coulthard said.

"It's not a cookie cutter model that you can just kind of establish in Yellowknife and then drop into communities. It takes deep consultation and work with communities on all aspects of our curriculum and how we go about delivering it."

After the five years of funding runs out, Dechinta will be looking for ways to sustain its programming with long-term public funding. Coulthard said that educational institutions need financial backing from government.

In 2018, Dechinta worried that proposed territorial legislation would leave no way to transition it into a publicly-funded institution.

Dechinta a 'healing' educational tool

Justina Black is one of several Dechinta alumni that visited the Arctic Indigenous Wellness urban camp in Yellowknife Tuesday to meet with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.

Dechinta alumnus Justina Black says on-the-land learning has been healing and helped many people in the N.W.T. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Black said Dechinta has "helped a lot of people in the Northwest Territories and outside the Northwest Territories to connect with where they need to be."

Black is a program support worker for the Kids U children's program. She teaches children about elements of land they can use for survival and well-being.

"For myself, it's been a really great educational tool but it's also been a really good healing journey for me," she said.

"On a spiritual and cultural level, it's brought me closer to the land and closer to my culture. It's grounded me to who I feel I am supposed to be and where I am supposed to be," she said.

Elder Berna Martin, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and a Wiiliideh translator, said she is thankful Dechinta has the funding it needs.

She said she will continue to offer her guidance as an elder, "to make [students] feel good and safe" while they learn.