Fort McPherson First Nation teams up with U of A to create community camp

The University of Alberta is teaming with Tetlit Gwich'in of Fort McPherson, N.W.T., to create an on-the-land community camp.

$100K in university funding will help develop on-the-land community camp near Fort McPherson, N.W.T.

From left, University of Alberta assistant professors Liza Piper and Adam Gaudry, community liaison Elaine Alexie, Tetlit Gwich'in Council Chief Wanda Pascal, and graduate student Molly Swain, are part of a team developing a land-based research camp in Fort McPherson. (University of Alberta)

The University of Alberta is partnering with the Tetlit Gwich'in of Fort McPherson, N.W.T., to create a new land-based learning bush camp.

Over three years, $100,000 in funding has been granted by the university through the Kule Institute for Advanced Study to bring the long-held dream of a community land camp to life.

In the past few days, a team of researchers from the University of Alberta have been holding meetings in the community to talk to people about the bush camp. 

Elaine Alexie from Fort McPherson is acting as community liaison for the project.

"Over the course of the year, I've had many conversations with folks from the community. And they've expressed a need for building this type of program. We didn't just come up with this idea," said Alexie.

About a year ago, Alexie reached out to Tetlit Gwich'in Chief Wanda Pascal, who was eager to help.

"We were talking about getting an on-the-land camp for years. And we thought maybe this is a good opportunity for the community to have a land-based research camp," said Chief Pascal.

The research team is helping to develop the bush camp alongside elders. With decolonial studies and teaching children in mind, its curriculum aims to blend critical Indigenous scholarship and Gwich'in history and governance.

"The goal is to develop these land-based resources and using elders in transmitting knowledge," said Alexie.

Those involved in the project hope it will become a model for other communities to follow. They will document its progress each step of the way and develop a related book. They also plan to support Gwich'in youth to create a podcast, a magazine and produce videos about their experience in the program.

The university plans to hold a land-based learning conference in the future to bring people and schools from many regions together to continue knowledge sharing.

The first two years of the project will be devoted to consultation and curriculum development while working closely with the community and its elders.

A pilot version of the bush camp will begin in the third year.