In the second year of Aurora College’s bachelor of education program, students leave the classroom and retreat into the bush outside Fort Smith, N.W.T. to learn on the land. For five days each fall, aspiring teachers learn to set up a teepee, scale fish, chop wood, cook bannock over a fire, all under the instruction of local Aboriginal elders. It’s an unusual component for a teaching degree, but Aurora’s on-the-land sessions were a huge reason why Karen Lepine-McFeeters chose the school and moved up to Fort Smith from B.C. three years ago.
“A lot of my friends were going to UBC or SFU, but as soon as I learned about the land camps, I knew it was for me,” says the student, who is Mikisew Cree and Metis from Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta, but grew up in Blue River, B.C. “I wanted something that was much more experiential, not just theory-based.”
With campuses in Inuvik, Fort Smith and Yellowknife, Aurora College serves a vast region that is governed in the Arctic by the Inuvialuit, and in southern subarctic by several Dene First Nations. Drawing on these deep-rooted cultures, the college offers on-the-land camps for several programs, instilling Aboriginal history, traditions and even bush skills.
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