Dechinta course focuses on self-determination

Dechinta course focuses on self-determination
Elder Modest Sangris checks on her fish net during last summer’s course on indigenous self-determination, run by the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning.Photo: Mandee McDonald, Dechinta.

The Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, the only land-based university of its kind in the Northwest Territories, is set to conduct the next session of its longest-running course from Aug. 2 to 9 focusing on indigenous self-determination.

The beauty of the dynamic course, which is also included as a section in each of the school’s longer programs, is that no two sessions are the same; each time around it is conducted by a variety of different teachers and elders, according to organizers.

“The point of the course is to really present a few different perspectives on self-determination in theory, how the different instructors practice self-determination and how they conceptualize and discuss it,” said Mandee McDonald, a land-based team leader and recruitment officer for Dechinta.

“Then, the students can decide for themselves based on what they learned there in their own life experiences how they define self-determination,” McDonald said.

The class is a chance for students to critically examine efforts towards self-determination with a strong focus on modern indigenous history in the North, from the formation of the Indian Brotherhood in the 1970s onward. Pupils will learn about the ongoing effects of colonialism and the many efforts used to fight it through cultural recognition, political movements and the land-based practices that lay at the core of indigenous peoples’ traditions.

Students will have the opportunity to learn with Dr. Glen Coulthard, a Yellowknives Dene member and a professor at the University of British Columbia in the Native Studies department, along with Leanne Simpson, an Anishinaabe writer, activist and professor. Therese and Modeste Sangris, two Yellowknives Dene elders from Dettah, will also contribute their knowledge.

Throughout the program, the instructors will use lecture-style forums in tandem with traditional activities to facilitate discussions.

“Land-based education is really the foundation of all of Dechinta’s programs,” McDonald said, noting that by participating in traditional activities, students are actively practicing self-determination and exercising their rights.

Elders will head most of the outdoor lessons, leading the group while they camp and head out on fishing and hunting excursions, followed by dry-fish making and – depending on the success of their hunt – preparing and preserving meat.

In the meantime, Coulthard will “provide a lot of historical and political context for the region,” McDonald said, by addressing the history of the Dene Nation and its modern politics.

The course will be held at Blatchford Lodge near Yellowknife, with camping activities taking place across the lake from the lodge. This session is being run as a professional development tool and anyone who is interested is welcome to register.

To register or for more information, visit

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