Dechinta Bush University launches program to train future Indigenous Guardian Leaders

Dechinta Bush University launches program to train future Indigenous Guardian Leaders

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Dechenla Lodge, Kaska/Sahtu Dene Territory; Yukon: Mon. Aug. 3, 2015: A new university-backed pilot project begins this week to produce young First Nations leaders to develop guardian programs across Canada to ensure the cultural integrity of boreal Indigenous peoples and the ecologies of their lands and waters forever.

One of the outcomes of this project will be the enhancing of capacity for communities to work as equal partners with governments and industry on land use planning and protection, and the assessment, development, management and monitoring of appropriate resource projects.

The Indigenous Boreal Guardian Program is a new program at the Dechinta Bush University (NWT) known for its on-the-land university programs on critical northern and Indigenous issues. All of Dechinta’s original programming is accredited by the University of Alberta.

“The program is designed to identify and develop new leaders who understand the complex challenges facing the future of the land – leaders who can advocate for management practices based on Indigenous knowledge, community values and scientific methods, and lead their communities in developing Guardian programs,” says Dechinta’s Dean Erin Freeland-Ballantyne.

The first of two semesters begins tomorrow, August 4, at the Dechenla Lodge in Kaska territory near the Yukon –NWT border, with a second semester next March at Dechinta’s home campus at Blachford Lake Lodge on Akaitcho Treaty 8 Territory in the NWT. The pilot project will train 8 students in core skills using an interdisciplinary curriculum designed by leading experts, elders and university professors.

Between semesters and after the course, the students will work back in their communities, sharing their newfound leadership skills and knowledge to help create Guardian programs.

“With increasing pressure from government and industry to develop resources, it is essential we support the training of community members who are effective boots on the land and in the boardroom- negotiating, monitoring, protecting and designing partnerships that result in healthy and sustainable communities,” says Freeland-Ballantyne.

“The program will teach students what they need to know to work with outside governments and industry on equal terms, but they will learn how to do this in a way that allows their communities to reconnect new generations with the land and inspire them to assert themselves the rightful keepers of ancestral lands,” says Freeland-Ballantyne.

Val Courtois of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, who is a leading supporter of the Dechinta project, predicts Guardian program will not only lead to better partnerships and relationships with government and industry, but also will generate major social and economic gains for indigenous communities.

“Studies in Australia, which has advanced aboriginal Ranger programs, show that they have enormous positive impacts on community job creation and retention, education and reduction in offences of violence,” said Courtois, who previously managed a highly successful program launch by the Innu Nation in Labrador in 1992.

Freeland-Ballantyne says the Innu program and the 15-year-old Coast Guardians Watchmen program in BC are both examples of what can be achieved in Canada as more and more Indigenous communities build such “hands-on” or “boots-on-the-ground” programs across the country.

“The demand for these programs is intensifying in the wake of the Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court ruling, and there is a great need for a program that can train and accredit young leaders to help their communities develop the skills and capacity to manage and protect their own lands and resources. We believe the Indigenous Boreal Guardian Program can be the means of meeting that need,” says Freeland-Ballantyne.

“Where better for students to take critical university training about to how to apply modern laws, regulations within the context of their own cultures, traditional and community values, than in a classroom setting surrounded by the precious lands and waters they will often be tasked with protecting.”

The Indigenous Boreal Guardians program is nested within Dechinta’s expanding land-based degree programs, supporting the goal of closing the Aboriginal-Non Aboriginal Achievement gap in post-secondary achievement in the north by 2025.

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Media contacts:

Dechinta: Dr. Erin Freeland Ballantyne. Email:
Valérie Courtois: Indigenous Leadership Initiative: Email:

For interview on site by phone please book ahead via email to book a time for connection by SAT 1778-3587574

More information on:

The Dechinta Centre for Research and Leaning:

Assessment of impacts and benefits of Australian program:

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