'We're ready,' Canada's first Arctic university opens soon
Sunday, June 24, 2018, 1:25 PM - Students from all over the world will have the opportunity to study climate change in real-time at Canada's first Arctic university set to launch in 2020.
Yukon College in Whitehorse, YT, is slated to officially become a university after eight years of negotiation.
The concept was first introduced in the mid-1970s. All 14 of Yukon’s First Nations delivered a document entitled Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow to then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau about land claims and the need for a university in the North. Fast forward nearly 50 years later and legislation is being passed.
Northern lights on a night sky over downtown Whitehorse, Yukon. -- Getty Images
“Now that we are all on the same page, the support is overwhelming,” said Jacqueline Bedard, Yukon College’s executive director of external and government relations. “First Nations are very in support, local business and industry, the mines, people are excited.”
While Yukon College has offered degrees in partnership with other universities, the new school will offer the first three bachelor’s programs under its own name in Indigenous governance, business administration and northern studies.
“We are going to be a hybrid university, and that means we will not lose the trades that we have right now that are very important to the North,” said Bedard. “Especially with our mining industry.”
Another area of focus will be climate change, sustainable resource development and innovation.
“Climate is changing more rapidly here in the Yukon than anywhere else in North America. On average, our temperature has increased by 2 degrees,” she said. “That might not seem like a lot to the average person, but it is incredible in terms of the impacts.”
Bedard called Yukon a “living laboratory for climate change,” as residents have been observing the effects of melting permafrost.
“In our research centre we have core samples from different parts of the Yukon, and it’s fascinating to see what is happening as the permafrost is melting. There are huge impacts on buildings and roads,” said the executive director. “It’s on the ground experience, and you can never benefit better than learning where it’s actually happening.”
Along the Yukon River in Whitehorse, Yukon. -- Getty Images
And the same goes for studying Indigenous governance and the relationship between the government and First Nations, added Bedard.
“I moved here from Victoria, B.C., 11 or 12 years ago and I can’t believe the culture change,” she said. “Our Premier for example does very little without the Grand Chief. They go arm and arm to events to make announcements and they work very closely together. It’s governments at the same level. It’s quite something to see that in action.”
The Yukon government has given the college $1.5 million to assist in the transition. In addition, the school has launched a $65 million fundraising campaign.
“We need to increase infrastructure and enhance our capacity, especially because we are looking to draw students from other parts of Canada and beyond,” Bedard said. “It’s an exciting transformation of the North. And the North is an interesting place in Canada right now, and going to become even more so.”