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Developing Dene leaders
Dehcho First Nations creating new leadership development program

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dehcho First Nations is working to create a program to develop a new generation of leaders in the region.

On Dec. 7, Grand Chief Samuel Gargan met with representatives of Aurora College, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, and with representatives of Service Canada in Fort Simpson to discuss how the Leadership Development Program could be created.

"I'm sort of one of those recycled leaders," said Gargan.

The younger population in the Deh Cho hasn't reached the level where they might want to take over leadership roles, he said. The program would develop youth ages 16 and older in ways so they can contribute to their community and society, said Gargan.

The envisioned program would include both Dene and euro-Canadian teachings and information.

"We want to produce leaders but we also want to produce Dene people," he said.

Among other things, the program would teach traditional skills, wilderness skills, herbal skills and the history of aboriginal people and the Americas as well as political skills, life skills, communication skills and community development.

Gargan said the inclusion of traditional Dene knowledge and teachings is crucial to the program because residents in Deh Cho communities look towards traditional people who can live off the land to take leadership roles.

Gargan noted that some people may choose to enter the program just because learning about their culture is important to them. The program will have to be both rural and urban in scope, and based around seasonal activities, he said.

While Aurora College already offers some components that the program will need, a rural setting such as Tathlina Lake, Trout Lake or Willow Lake will have to be developed where the on-the-land teachings can take place, said Gargan.

"This program cannot just be designed in a classroom," he said.

Dehcho First Nations started to develop the outline for a leadership program in 2006 called the Dehcho Certificate Program when the signing of the Dehcho Process was expected to be imminent. That basis is providing a good starting point, Gargan said.

From here, Gargan said more meetings will have to be held with possible partners such as Aurora College, the Dehcho Divisional Education Council, Canadian Zinc and elders, to see how the program can be developed.

"It won't be unique but it will be quite new," he said.

No decision has been made yet on whether the program will cover one or two years. Dehcho First Nations will recognize the program's certification and also wants it recognized as a diploma program, and wants its participants made eligible for scholarships.

Once graduates complete the program, they will have the option of entering the wage or traditional economy and should have no problem getting into either, said Gargan.

'Really powerful'

Barb Tsetso, the acting Deh Cho co-ordinator for Aurora College who was present at the Dec. 7 meeting, said there are lots of examples of similar programs that should be examined to see what could be adapted for the region.

"We could design something that's really powerful for the Deh Cho," she said.

Tsetso said there has been discussion for a number of years about starting an alternative school in the Deh Cho. The fact Dehcho First Nations has already done research in this area provides a base to start from, she said.

"I think this is awesome," Tsetso said.

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