First Nations teaching farm in Dawson City expands, adds animals

A teaching farm run by the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation outside Dawson City is expanding this summer. The program will include more students, and is also adding animals and a year-round greenhouse.

'It's never a matter of if we can do something out on the farm, it's a matter of when'

A student in last year's class tends to his garden plot at the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation's farm school near Dawson City, Yukon. Some students live on-site in wall tents during the growing season. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation's teaching farm outside Dawson City is growing this year, with plans to expand its gardens and add berries and apple trees.

Also new to the farm this year — eight piglets. 

"We're so pleased and proud as punch to have the first animals come to the site," said Dexter MacRae, who oversees education and training for the First Nation.

More animals — rabbits and chickens — will come to the farm later this month.

"We've expanded our land, [and] our growing area, which was always part of the project. So we've increased, probably doubled our space," he said.  

Now in its second year, the farm program has 23 students eager to work the land this summer, six of whom are high school students. 

"As I've always been saying, it's never a matter of if we can do something out on the farm, it's a matter of when," McRae said. 

He says construction of a greenhouse will start in June, with the goal of having fresh greens available to Dawson City year-round.  

Grounded in the community

So far, the teaching farm has been a success for the First Nation, and Yukon College, a partner in the initiative.

"The fact that it's something that was really driven by the First Nation — that excites me," said Tosh Southwick, director of First Nation initiatives at the college.

"It's grounded in the desires of that community, and anytime we can support that, that's really exciting."

Southwick believes post-secondary education should be about supporting the self-determination of the community and First Nation. 

"This has really been an opportunity for us to learn how we can navigate really complex programs and make sure that the students are at the centre of them," she said.

"And this program really checks off all of those aspects."