Northern Canada: New science building will be ‘cornerstone’ of Yukon University

The proposed design of a new science building at what will be Yukon University, in Whitehorse. The federal government announced $26 million for the project in its 2019 budget. (Yukon College)
The president of Yukon College says a new $26-million dollar science building will bring together Western science and Indigenous traditional knowledge, and will be a “cornerstone” of what will soon be Yukon University.

“The science building is going to be such a wonderful way for us to really show that this is a brand new institution,” said Karen Barnes.

The college has been working for years to become a full-fledged, degree-granting university. The transition will become official next year.

The money for the new science building was announced on Tuesday as part of the 2019 federal budget.

“We have been having our fingers crossed for a long time, hoping for this wonderful investment by the federal government in our new university,” Barnes said.

She was invited to Parliament Hill on Tuesday to watch Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s budget speech, with Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

‘We have been having our fingers crossed for a long time,’ said Yukon College president Karen Barnes. (CBC)

“It was really heartening to hear how many people really knew already about the university,” she said.

In a statement on Tuesday, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver congratulated the college and said the transition to Yukon University “further advances opportunities available in Yukon and the North.”

Science through two lenses

Bronwyn Hancock, the college’s associate vice-president of research development, says the new building won’t just be sterile labs and lecture halls. The goal will be to reflect “Indigenous values, Indigenous perspectives.”

The idea, she says, will be to integrate everything, including the outdoor environment, and create “space for conversation.”

“Our concept of the building is that it will allow our students to learn and research in the sciences through two lenses. So they’ll have the opportunity use both Indigenous knowledge and Western science,” Hancock said.

Another rendering of the proposed design for the building. The idea will be to integrate everything, including the outdoor environment, and create ‘space for conversation.’ (Yukon College)

“We want both of those to be integrated in and flowing through the building and the research and the teaching and the opportunities that our students have.”

She says the design specifics are still being worked out. The college is looking at similar facilities elsewhere, and will also consult with First Nations to ensure the building reflects “Indigenous values, Indigenous perspectives.”

“They’ll be helping us figure out, you know, how do we create a space that looks and feels comfortable and conducive to, you know, open and honest conversation,” she said.

According to Barnes, Yukon University’s science programs will build on what the college already focuses on — resource development, and climate change research — but also Indigenous self-government and self-determination.

The rectangle indicates the proposed location of a new science building on the Yukon College campus in Whitehorse. (Archbould Photography/Yukon College)

“Although you may not see a direct link with that, the study of science is going to help First Nations communities with all of the issues that are facing them, both environmentally, [and] things like resource development,” she said.

“The most important thing is that we’re going to excite the young people in the North, to think about science and really look at the problems that exist in the North and study how to solve them.”

Written by Paul Tukker, with reporting by Alexandra Byers

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Higher learning? The quest for a Northern University in Canada, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot

Norway: New building to help boost cooperation for Arctic research center in Northern Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Norwegian-funded school in Northwest Russia inspires cooperation, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Proposed Alaska budget could cut programs to bare minimum, school district says, Alaska Public Media

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