Aurora College turns 50, with drum dance

Yellowknives Dene Drummers perform at Aurora College. (Submitted by Jayne Murray.)
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In 1969 a heavy equipment operator course was offered in Fort Smith. Fifty years later, the college which evolved from it is celebrating 50 years.

Interim president of Aurora College Jeff O’Keefe says the college has a presence in most NWT communities – with three campuses and 23 community learning centres. Students educated through Aurora go on to build these communities he added.

“Our graduates go back into their communities and play an important role in community development, education, healthcare, covering the gamut.”

Member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and a 25-year employee of the college Joanne Erasmus says while students and staff have come and gone, the education has continued to focus on the needs of the North. She says having education in the North allows people to stay in their homes, families and cultures while working on their future.

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“It’s expensive, for one, to have to move, and it’s difficult to move away from your support systems. It’s lonely, people go through cultural shock when they have to go to another location to go to school.”

Erasmus is a counsellor, healer and coordinator of traditional knowledge at the college. She says the joy of her work is seeing students become confident in their own abilities.

“I like to see people come and be a success and walk out of here with their heads held high, feeling confident that they can go out and get a good job, have a good career and make a life for themselves, make a difference for themselves, for their communities and the whole Northwest Territories and on.”

The college will celebrate 50 years with a drum dance Thursday night at Chateau Nova hotel. Introductions, stew and bannock start at 6 p.m. and the dance begins at 7 p.m. Erasmus stresses the event is not formal, rather she hopes to see alumni and community members come out and fill the venue to its 400-person capacity.

With a 2018 foundational review of the college recommending the building of a polytechnic university in the NWT, the future of Aurora College is about expansion and change.

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O’Keefe says the money and logistics will be a challenge, but the opportunities to build up programs to higher levels is exciting.

“It feeds into the idea of contributing to self-determination as a territory, of what we will be and what we need and meeting our own needs.”

Erasmus wants to see a new building for the college, as more space is needed to expand programs and cater to cultural needs.

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