YELLOWKNIFE -- A unique Arctic college is starting a program aimed at giving aboriginal people the skills they need to negotiate, implement and monitor land claims.

"This is to teach people the fundamental things that they would be responsible for in their nations in terms of managing and decision-making," said Erin Freeland-Ballantyne of Dechinta, a "bush university" north of Yellowknife that puts land-based education at the centre of its programs.

First Nations are taking on more and more responsibility for their lands and need the education to back that up, Freeland-Ballantyne said.

"There needs to be more programming about mobilizing the inherent rights and responsibility to land -- but also how to work toward equal partnerships and good relationships with other aboriginal governments, with industry, with environmental groups."

The program is wide-ranging and includes everything from governance systems to basic research techniques.

Recent co-management deals such as the one between Parks Canada and the Lutsel K'e Dene for the proposed Thaidene Nene National Park in the N.W.T. show that arrangements with greater aboriginal input are becoming more common, said Freeland-Ballantyne.

"There's so many ways to get nations out on the land enacting their traditional and contemporary responsibilities to land and to each other. It creates an industry where people are sharing their cultural values with guests while also ensuring that whoever's on their land is taking care of the land in a way that ensures its integrity."

Dechinta, accredited through the University of Alberta, is to begin Monday as a pilot with 10 students for three semesters. It will be offered as a minor through the native studies program.

Dechinta will offer 12 courses. Core studies will include community governance, health and wellness and community research methodologies.

Students will work with elders and spend extended time on the land putting lessons into practise.