School on a river: N.W.T.'s 'bush university' offers credits for paddling down Peel River

Students can paddle down Peel River this summer and get a university credit for it.

'I think we all fell in love,' says Angela Koe-Blake who paddled the river last year

Dechinta Centre's newest pilot program will offer university credits for the University of British Columbia. (Jill Pangman)

Bobbi Rose Koe has already paddled the Peel River twice.

She's making trip number three this summer — but this time, it can be used for university credits.

The Yellowknife based Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning — the N.W.T.'s 'bush university' — is partnering with the Youth of the Peel Society, co-founded by Koe after her first trip down the Peel River in 2015. Dechinta's pilot program will offer university credits for the University of British Columbia.

Youth of the Peel was created after the first youth trip down Wind and Peel River in 2015, in partnership with Yukon CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society). (Jill Pangman)

"It's pretty cool that Dechinta approached us," said Koe, who's now helping to organize the summer trip for credit.

On-the-land education for successful applicants will include study of the Peel watershed, and indigenous history and culture — all the while paddling down the Wind and Peel rivers. It will be roughly three weeks on water, and some time on the land training and learning.

'We all fell in love'

"I think we all fell in love," said Angela Koe-Blake, a youth from Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., who went on the Youth of the Peel's trip last summer.

It included young people from Yukon's Dawson City, Mayo and Old Crow, to N.W.T.'s Tsiigehtchic, Inuvik, Aklavik, and Fort McPherson.

Our ancestors and our grandparents walked these trails with their own two feet.- Angela Koe-Blake

Koe-Blake said she felt connected to the land, with the "refreshing" hikes up the mountains and the peaceful paddle down the river.

"Being physically there was really touching," she said.

Koe-Blake was able to share stories passed down from her grandparents to other youth on the trip.

Participants will spend roughly three weeks on the rivers, and will spend time on the land learning and hiking. (Jill Pangman)

"Hearing all the stories from elders, all you can do is imagine it," said Koe-Blake. "We just couldn't believe our ancestors and our grandparents walked these trails with their own two feet."

Koe-Blake hopes to go again this summer, and is applying for the adventure.

This year, the trip starts on Yukon's McClusky lake and ends in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., and runs from July 4 to Aug. 15.

Koe encourages anyone older than 18 to apply for the program, adding that it's not just for youth but for anyone who wants to learn more about the importance of protecting the Peel watershed, indigenous history and culture.

Scholarships are available for applicants who need financial support.

Applications are due June 1.

With files from William Firth


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