College to offer degree in First Nation governance

Yukon College has announced its first degree program and post-degree certificate, expected to begin in 2017.

Yukon College has announced its first degree program and post-degree certificate, expected to begin in 2017.

Currently, the degrees offered at the college are administered in partnership with an Outside university, and it is that partner institution that grants the degree.

The first Yukon College bachelor’s degree program will be in policy studies in indigenous governance, Education Minister Elaine Taylor announced to a packed audience in the college’s Pit yesterday.

It will build on the First Nations governance and public administration certificate program currently offered at the college.

It was designed to help build capacity for First Nations governments in the Yukon, and grew from a partnership with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.

The courses related to indigenous governance have attracted 122 students since 2011, said Tosh Southwick, the college’s director of First Nations initiatives.

“These are courses that are practical, useful, and allow students to apply their knowledge right away in their own communities.”

As the degree program begins, students will have an opportunity to develop that knowledge further, she said.

“From an indigenous perspective, students will learn to analyze indigenous self-determination and self-government in Canada and internationally, and they’ll do it from their own community, where the story is unfolding,” said Southwick.

“The days of leaving this territory in order to further one’s education, as I and many of us had to do, is coming to an end. The ability to study our own stories by people who have built it and our implementing it, is starting here, and that’s really exciting.”

The college’s first post-graduate certificate will be in climate change and public policy.

It will build on continuing education courses currently offered through Cold Climate Innovation at the Yukon Research Centre in the area of policy and climate change.

“Those courses are over-subscribed,” said Karen Barnes, president of Yukon College. “We can’t keep up with the demand for those courses. And in fact governments of Norway and Sweden have asked us if we could deliver those courses in Norway and Sweden. There’s such a need across the North for that understanding of what climate change is going to mean for policy.”

These two new programs are part of an effort to move Yukon College closer to being a university, a promise made by the Yukon Party leading up to the 2011 election.

But it’s not clear yet if those first degrees will say Yukon College, Yukon University, Yukon College University or something else on them.

There are many steps ahead before the college might consider a name change, said Paul Flaherty, chair of the Yukon College board.

“There are a number of milestones for the college to reach in partnership with the Yukon government before we’ll actually change our name.”

Getting these new programs set up is one of them, he said.

In order to do that, the college will have to go through some sort of quality assurance program, so that its degree will be recognized by other institutions.

The college must also make a master land use plan, do a new economic impact study, go through a multi-year budget process and work with the Yukon government to make legislative changes, said Flaherty.

Over the past few years board members, faculty and staff have been visiting colleges and universities across the country and beyond to help guide the direction for Yukon college, he said.

“We found that one of the important things to do is not to set our goal to be what some other university is. We’re not about being the next UBC or University of Victoria, we’re about trying to do what makes sense for Yukoners, or Northern Canada.”

That means building on existing expertise in adult education and the trades, rather than replacing those programs.

The board has determined three areas of priority for the college, said Flaherty.

They are climate change, First Nations governance, and industrial training for work in resource extraction, he said.

Those first two will be bolstered with the new programs announces yesterday.

And ground has recently broken on the college’s new Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining, designed to train Yukoners to work in Yukon’s mines.

“It’s been a wonderful journey, coming to this vision, and I think that we have finally come to a place where we truly understand what this new generation of university is going to look like,” said Barnes. “We’re not going to leave things behind, we’re just going to add new and wonderful things to what we already do so well.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at