Hotıì ts’eeda argues for changes to planned NWT university

Last modified: November 12, 2020 at 5:09pm

The NWT’s new polytechnic university needs an Indigenous chancellor, a rethink of its governance, and an overhaul of the planned teaching areas, research support group Hotıì ts’eeda says.

Releasing a paper on Aurora College’s transformation into a polytechnic, Hotıì ts’eeda said the university must focus on the NWT’s uniqueness and enhance its appeal to its primarily Indigenous student base.

The paper calls for an Indigenous chancellor to be appointed alongside the university’s president. While the president would hold outstanding academic and research credentials, the chancellor is envisaged as an Indigenous knowledge-holder who can “ensure that an Indigenous lens will be respected in all aspects of transformation and institutional planning.”


In Hotıì ts’eeda’s proposed model, two councils – one of school heads, one of knowledge-holders and partners – advise the president and chancellor, rather than the NWT government’s planned academic senate and board of governors.

The territory should move away from the traditional structures and names associated with academia, the paper argues.

“As a new and uniquely northern institution, there is a rare opportunity to depart from other governance models built in different times and places and according to values and understandings of the world that often exclude multiple world views, and certainly Indigenous ones,” the paper states.

“We strongly advise the GNWT to move away from such outdated markers of ideology and cultures that do not connect with current NWT circumstances, and that are evocative of systems institutionalizing exclusion and inequitable access, particularly for Indigenous peoples and individuals.”

The paper comes in response to a call for feedback from the territorial government earlier this year on two fronts: how to structure the university’s governance and which areas the university should specialize in.


However, at least some of the feedback seems to be too late.

The territorial government has already released a document that appears to finalize its choices for areas of specialization, just a month after the consultation window closed.

Not all groups managed to submit their feedback in time. The City of Yellowknife met the GNWT’s September 28 deadline but the Town of Fort Smith and Hotıì ts’eeda each submitted their detailed feedback some time afterward. Yellowknife’s mayor complained the window for responses had been far too short.

School of Indigenous Resurgence proposed

The territory appears to have pressed ahead without waiting, issuing a document on October 29 that confirmed four areas of specialization:


  • skilled trades and technology
  • earth resources (mining) and environmental management
  • northern health, education, and community services
  • business and leadership

Hotıì ts’eeda – which is a research support group, connecting researchers with communities – wants the territory to focus on six areas instead of four.

Of the six proposed schools, five are given these headings:

  • Indigenous resurgence
  • human and social development
  • land connection and sustainability
  • applied business and technology
  • applied arts and culture

The sixth is a school of post-secondary readiness and continuing studies, dedicated to providing the likes of upgrade classes and general interest courses.

Hotıì ts’eeda’s schools bear broad similarity to the GNWT’s planned areas of specialization, but with a reduced focus on some subjects (mining appears to have a slightly diminished role in this version) and more room for the likes of tourism and Indigenous Guardian programs.

The school of Indigenous resurgence is the most significant departure from the GNWT’s model.

As envisaged by Hotıì ts’eeda, that school would attempt to turn the NWT’s university into a leading centre of Indigenous governance by offering specialist courses in law, education, knowledge, culture, government administration, and northern history and development.

The paper argues the NWT’s university “must build on strengths we have here rather than attempt to poorly mimic abstract ideals of polytechnics elsewhere.”

It states the proposed six schools are “a bold approach that embraces the NWT’s uniqueness” and could attract Indigenous students locally, nationally, and globally.

The City of Yellowknife has criticized the GNWT’s four planned areas of specialization, saying they are too similar to Aurora College’s existing mandate and unlikely to attract students from elsewhere.

Hotıì ts’eeda’s paper sees the GNWT’s plan in a similar light, stating the four chosen areas “reflect an existing institutional subject matter and approaches that do not take advantage of the extensive resources and strengths that the NWT has to offer.”

However, it’s not clear what will actually come of the research support group’s feedback.

The NWT government appears to have finalized the university’s initial specialist areas and has gone as far as publishing a timeline for the next five years, including the university’s planned launch date of May 2025.

There may yet be room for this week’s paper to influence the university’s governance model. An update on that is expected from the territory in the near future.

Correction: November 12, 2020 – 17:07 MT. This report initially stated the City of Yellowknife was among groups to miss the GNWT’s September 28 deadline for feedback on university areas of specialization. In fact, the city beat the deadline by three days. (The mayor did, nevertheless, complain that the consultation had allowed too little time to formulate a meaningful response.)