My first introduction to the CHAOS program involved driving up Grey Mountain to meet a group of grade 9 students and educators as they completed an extended hike on their final day of school before summer break.

CHAOS, which stands for Community, Heritage, Adventure, Outdoors and Skills, is a new experiential education program for Yukon high school students that recently completed its pilot semester.

Enjoying the challenge and beauty of an alpine hike

The program’s instructor, Chris Hobbis, describes it a “hands-on, semester-long program, which engages students in First Nations culture, history and traditions and outdoor adventure activities to build leadership, awareness and growth in the participants.”

The program, housed at Wood Street School, is available to grade 10 students in the fall semester and grade 9 students in the spring.

Students receive credit for four classes through the program – English, social studies, outdoor education, and fine art – while spending approximately 22 days on expeditions throughout the semester.

Hobbis highlights some of this year’s expeditions.

“While learning about the fur trade we put the students through the trapper education program and got them officially certified,” he explains.

“We then took them out winter camping with a First Nations trapper along his trapline. The same trapper took us on a canoe trip and beaver hunt on the Nisutlin.”

Hobbis says all the expeditions are strongly tied to First Nations history and culture.

“For example, we took a bike trip to Champagne and explored the mountains around Annie Lake by foot.”

For Jasmine Bill, a student who took part in this year’s pilot program, the trips were her favourite part of the program.

“They showed us everything we learned about in the classroom and allowed us to be out on the land,” Bill says. “It feels really good. You push yourself and do things you wouldn’t think you could do.”

Jim Boyde, who works with the First Nations programs and partnerships unit at the Department of Education, provides some insight into the CHAOS program’s development.

“We wanted to develop a program that mirrored First Nations traditional learning styles, which are firmly rooted in hands-on learning and experience. We also wanted to add some cultural depth to the traditional outdoor experiential education programming currently available to Yukon students,” Boyde says.

“The CHAOS program is designed to provide both First Nations and non-First Nations students a better appreciation of First Nations culture, traditions and history here in Yukon, while at the same time gaining a better sense of self.”

Towards these goals the program has some features unique to the territory. Instead of the regular English 9 and 10 curricula, students study newly-developed curricula: English – First Peoples 9 and 10.

In this case the term “First Peoples” includes First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples in Canada, as well as indigenous peoples around the world.

The curricula focus on texts that present authentic First Peoples voices and highlight central themes of identity and the significance of colonization. The course also emphasizes the oral traditions that are central to First Nations culture.

The CHAOS program is based firmly on the principle of “two eyed seeing”, a concept pioneered by Albert Marshall, an Elder of the Eskasoni Mi’kmaq First Nation in Cape Breton, Boyde explains.

It refers to learning to see with one eye through the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and with the other eye through the strengths of Western (Eurocentric, conventional, or mainstream) knowledge and ways of knowing, and then combining both eyes for the benefit of all.

Asked about her overall impression of CHAOS, Bill responds enthusiastically.

Enjoying the challenge and beauty of an alpine hike

“The program was fun and I learned a lot. Even though it was challenging it was worth the work. Everyone should take this program,” she adds.

The deadline to apply for next year’s CHAOS program is July 15. Information and application forms are at http://www.yesnet.yk.ca/events/chaos/index.html

Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at sports@whatsupyukon.com.