Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Yukon College Join Forces

There is an exciting new project underway near Dawson City. On September 19, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (TH) and Yukon College to create a framework for the development of a teaching-and-working farm located in TH traditional territory.

The project’s impetus is to secure a source of fresh produce in a sustainable way, and to create a healthy, healing, safe, and rewarding “on-the-land” environment for all TH citizens.

“ TH has had a dream for a long time to get back to traditional pursuits on the land,” says Dexter MacRae, director of human resources and community training.

“ They want to preserve a way of life that is based on an economic and spiritual relationship with the land.”

After initial brainstorming, TH approached the college to form a partnership, believing the college could help develop and research innovative approaches to year-round northern Yukon farming, as well as provide a program where TH students could learn in an “on-the-land classroom”.

Deborah Bartlette, Yukon College’s vice president, academic and student services, was excited when TH came to the college with the idea.

“ They had land in its natural state and ideas on how to use it,” says Bartlette. “We are happy to be able to support TH in whatever way we can.”

After the initial approach, the college met with TH Chief and council in Dawson City, and went out to look at the proposed site.

Known as Strachan’s Farm, a former working farm from the early 1900s, it is located opposite the airport on the North Klondike Highway, 15 km outside of Dawson City. The memorandum of understanding was then drafted and signed.

Both TH and the college have agreed to work together to develop an initial design and layout of the farm. They will also develop programming aimed at meeting the educational and training needs of the First Nation, look into environmentally responsible agricultural practices, support the return of indigenous plants and shrubs important to the sustenance and healing traditions TH, promote a source of training opportunity for trades skills development, and develop plans for selling excess products to the general public as a source of revenue and sustainability for the farm.

Meanwhile, the college will add its support by evaluating available energy sources including geo-thermal power, exploring work-experience opportunities for college students, supporting on-the-land “live-on-site” agriculture, and engaging other valuable partners in the project.

Both TH and the college hope to leave a positive legacy for future agricultural education opportunities for TH and other Yukon First Nations.

Although there is much excitement both within the college and the TH community, both Bartlette and MacRae agree things won’t happen overnight.

“ The land is in its natural state and will take some work,” says Bartlette.

“ We’re planning to start small-scale by preparing the land in the spring of 2015 and planting some root vegetables,” says MacRae.

“ In the summer of 2016, we hope to build and operate a year-round greenhouse.”

However, at the moment, acquiring funding is the priority.

“ The Prime Minister has announced new funding for a Northern greenhouse initiative,” MacRae says.

“ Right now, we’re putting in an application so that we can do soil testing to determine what we can grow, as well as a feasibility study to see what will work best.”

After submitting the application, MacRae says the next step will be the formation of a steering committee to add scope and depth to the project, for both initial and long-term development.

Next, working groups will be formed comprising local farmers, TH citizens, and other experts who will make an operating plan, including what to plant, how to plant it, how to keep the farm secure, and how to make everything sustainable.

Future plans include building farm-hand bunkhouses, a teaching building for college research and agriculture departments, as well as incorporating animal husbandry and fodder into the program.

“ The possibilities are endless,” says MacRae. “We want to be traditional, organic, and building for the future.”

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