Ken Coates comes home to the Yukon as university’s Indigenous Governance chair

Ken Coates is coming home to the Yukon.

Born in Banff, but raised in Whitehorse, Coates carved a career as a writer, academic and speaker, while always keeping one foot grounded in the Yukon.

“There’s no greater place in the world to see Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples working out their challenges than in the Yukon,” he told the News.

Coates will be leaving his post as Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy for the University of Saskatchewan, and moving back to Whitehorse to take on the job as program chair in the Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Governance at Yukon University as of July 1.

Coates says he always tells people to look at the Yukon to realize that the challenges of negotiating and implementing modern treaties are not insurmountable. People in the territory may get frustrated occasionally, but they also “recognize how much progress has been made.”

The program Coates has been asked to lead at Yukon University has been and continues to be co-developed with Yukon First Nations.

“Coates has a long connection with YukonU and has championed the institution at every step of its evolution,” reads the news release from Yukon University.

Coates says what is happening here is a result of the collaboration and creativity that has come together in support of a place that holds “the potential for enormous and lasting change.”

The delays and time spent talking and problem-solving are expected.

“This is a normal part of figuring out something as important and complicated as Indigenous governance and self-government and modern treaty making — this is just how it works.”

As an academic, Coates says his contribution can be felt in two ways — firstly in building leadership capacity by developing an understanding of the unique features of the landscape of northern governance, and secondly through research.

“Research is becoming much more focused on Indigenous priorities, and much less on what an individual scholar might choose to do by themselves.”

That means that researchers need to work with Indigenous communities to figure out how and where they want research done.

Yukon University is pleased to have him back. Coates remains one of three senior editors of the Northern Review 35 years after it was co-founded alongside then-dean of Arts and Science Aron Senkpiel and archeology instructor Norm Easton.

“We are thrilled Dr. Coates has chosen to return home to the Yukon and lead our Indigenous Governance degree program. He brings a wealth of scholarship and lifelong experience engaging with issues of development and land claims in Canada’s North,” said Dr. Shelagh Rowles, provost and vice-president, Academic, Yukon University.

Coates said he wasn’t looking for a job, but the timing seemed right.

“I was in conversations with Yukon University about their Indigenous Governance program and the idea sort of floated up between us — wouldn’t it be nice if we sort of merged our interest in all of this?

“And the next thing you know, I’m moving to Whitehorse.”

Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News