Minister of Education Tracy-Anne McPhee speaks at the announcement that Yukon College will be offering its first university level program. The Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Governance is also the first degree entirely developed and delivered in a Canadian territory. (Submitted/Yukon College)

College launches made-in-Yukon Indigenous governance degree

‘This is Yukon’s degree. This is for First Nations, this is for people working with First Nations’

Yukon College is offering the first university-level degree to be designed exclusively in the territory starting this September.

The Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Governance is the first degree entirely developed and delivered in a Canadian territory.

The three-year, 90-credit program will offer courses on topics including self-government, cultural preservation, Indigenous political thought, land claims and research.

“This is Yukon’s degree. This is for First Nations, this is for those people working with First Nations, and this is for us to be able to continue to break trail in how we work together between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians,” said Tosh Southwick, the college’s executive director of First Nation initiatives and community engagement at the official kickoff May 10.

“It is about a degree that builds on capacity as a relevant, accessible tool for all of our people that are working in implementing our final agreements.”

The degree was reviewed by the Campus Alberta Quality Council, an arms-length organization that monitors degree standards in Alberta.

The council recommended the Yukon government approve the program after it concluded “this college has all the pieces in place to offer high quality degrees and that the degree program that we are about to offer meets recognized national and international standards of quality,” Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said.

Southwick said the degree will offer something not available in standard public policy degrees offered outside the territory.

“I think for Northerners, when we go Outside and we take a public policy degree they’re talking about a different context most of the time. So they’re talking about things like on-reserve, off-reserve; they’re talking about status, non-status,” she said. “For our people in the Yukon that becomes very confusing because we left that conversation a long time ago and we have a different context that we work in.

“So where do you go to get the skills to help you be the best you can be and do the best you can in a job that other people aren’t even talking about? The answer is we have to build it.”

Southwick said the program was designed in partnership with Yukon First Nations.

“We had experts from almost every First Nation that we brought in as subject matter experts.”

A draft framework was brought to the college’s President’s Advisory Council on First Nations Initatives, “and they took it back to their community for any input,” she said.

Parts of the program including the decision to have an experiential component where students will get a chance to apply what they learned either within a government or on the land, as well as the decision to offer the option to take the degree online, were based on feedback from First Nations, she said.

“Those decisions are traditionally done by the academic institution. For them to be done in partnership is a very new way of First Nations and post secondary working together.”

Southwick said she imagines a wide range of people benefiting from getting the degree.

“I also think you’d be hard pressed to find a meeting about First Nation priorities that doesn’t mention capacity and this has a direct correlation between filling those capacity needs in all levels of government, not just First Nations governments, municipal, territorial and federal (governments.)”

Yukon College already offers a few university-level programs but those are all done in partnership with Outside universities.

“Those degrees would have been developed in the south by other institutions, not by us,” said college president Karen Barnes.

Barnes said the new degree has been assessed as a “university-level” degree and that if everything goes as planned, the first graduates will have Yukon University written on their diplomas as opposed to Yukon College.

The college has been working for years in the hopes of eventually becoming Yukon University.

While developing its own programs is not a requirement for university status, Barnes said it’s likely to help the college’s case.

“It’s pretty hard to have a university without degrees. I think people would have said, ‘really, you’re a university and you don’t have degrees?’ So we really wanted to get at least one under our belt.”

Next year the college hopes to offer a Bachelor of Business and Leadership. A third program, a Bachelor of Arts and Northern Studies, is also in the works, she said.

Students interested in enrolling in the new degree program can attend information sessions on either May 23, 29 or June 7.

More information can also be found on the college’s website.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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