Board of Directors

Board of Directors

(Retired) Steve Ellissteve website is the Northern Senior Associate at Tides Canada. Based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Stephen works with Northern communities and partners to create and implement a strategic granting program that builds capacity and advances solutions to integrated social, cultural, environmental, and economic challenges in the North.

After completing a Masters in Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo, Stephen and his family lived in Lutsel K’e, a Dene community on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, for over 12 years. During this time he focused on work helping indigenous peoples, governments, and industry tackle tough land and resource challenges. He is a member of the Environmental Monitoring Advisory Board for the Diavik Diamond Mine and a Director for the Dechinta Institute for Research and Learning. He previously chaired the Akaitcho Screening Board and was a long-standing Director of the Denesoline Corporation and a member of the NWT Protected Areas Strategy Steering Committee.

UA_March2013_Campus_PPT_210x400 (Retired)Dr. Brendan Hokowhitu is currently Dean, Faculty of Native Studies, at the University of Alberta.

Dr. Hokowhitu holds a Ph.D. in Māori Studies/Physical Education, a Masters of Arts, and two Bachelor degrees. He has built a highly respected national and international research reputation; specializations include Indigenous culture and theory, Indigenous sport/physical education/health, Indigenous masculinity, and Indigenous film and media. He received a Government panellist appointment to the prestigious Tertiary Education Commission Performance Based Research Fund, Māori Knowledge and Development, which oversees all research in the Māori knowledge area and directs State funding to all tertiary institutions. Dr. Hokowhitu is prepared to lead the promotion and support of high-quality research in a collaborative and interdisciplinary manner. His achievements in innovative teaching have reached communities beyond Otago and New Zealand. In one instance, Dr. Hokowhitu developed the first completely online Master of Indigenous Studies program in the world having perceived that many indigenous leaders, already committed to community responsibilities, encountered geographical obstacles to higher education. He is also an inaugural elected officer of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, a key association in the developing field of Indigenous Studies.

20110609_5537-214x300(Retired)Rita Mueller has called the Northwest Territories “home” since 1989.  She currently resides and works in Behchoko, and has lived and worked in a variety of different communities including Fort Resolution, Yellowknife, and Hay River.

Rita is currently the Assistant Deputy Minister for the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Department of Education, Culture, and Employment (ECE). A respected community member, Rita has previously served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Tłįcho Community Services Agency (TCSA), the Director of Early Childhood and K-12 School Services for ECE, and was the principal of Chief Jimmy Bruneau Regional High School (CJBS) in Behchoko for 13 years. Rita is also an elected Councillor of the Community Government of Behchoko and, since 2006, she has contributed to the educational mandate of the NWT Human Rights Commission as a NWT Human Rights Commission Member.

jennieJennie Vandermeer is a lifelong Northerner; originally from Deline (Sahtugotine) and now residing in Yellowknife. She has worked with the Government of the Northwest Territories in the environmental field for almost a decade with the NWT Protected Areas Strategy and now with the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy. Armed with a Bachelor of Environmental Science Degree from Royal Roads University, Jennie is pursuing her passion for explaining science to Northerners in meaningful way that will help guide decision making. Jennie is very excited to be involved with Dechinta because, “land -based learning is how my ancestors passed on knowledge; that’s how I learned”. Education shouldn’t be about being stuck in a stuffy lecture hall, education is life-long and it’s all around you, eveyday. Dechinta captures this in every way.

Sarah Arngna’naaqsaraha joined the Dechinta Board of Directors in February 2014 and now sits as Vice Chair of the Board. Outside of Dechinta Sarah is a Crown prosecutor with the Kitikmeot Sub-Office of the Nunavut Regional Office of Public Prosecution Service of Canada. Based in Yellowknife, Sarah has returned north after completing ten years of her education in southern Canada. Her joint honours Bachelor’s degree was earned in 2009 from Trent University in International Development and Business Administration. Her Juris Doctor was completed in 2012 and is from the University of Victoria. She was called to the Northwest Territories bar in September 2013.

Raised by a teacher, Sarah has always believed that education is fundamental to well-developed and thriving communities. Sarah feels strongly that her education has significantly contributed to her personal development and she looks forward to working to help others on that path. It is exactly the type of educational facility that Dechinta is and strives to be that Sarah sees as the future of higher learning in northern Canada – a fusion of western academia and traditional indigenous knowledge. She is very excited at the opportunity to work with Dechinta staff and other Board members to maintain and grow this innovative educational institution.

candiceCandice Lys, Chair of the Board of Directors, was raised in a very large Métis family in Fort Smith and now resides in Yellowknife. She holds a Master’s degree in Health Promotion and is a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health. As a Research Associate with the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research (ICHR), Candice is the Project Lead for the FOXY (Fostering Open eXpression among Youth) sexual health education program. FOXY is a peer-led, arts-based sexual health program that uses drama and the arts to facilitate discussion and education regarding sexual health, healthy sexuality, and positive decision-making among young women across the Northwest Territories. Candice is involved with numerous territorial, national, and international health organizations, including the Member at Large for the Canadian Society for Circumpolar Health and a member of the National Aboriginal Council on HIV/AIDS. As a Northerner who has had to move many times to complete post secondary education in southern institutions, Candice has a deep interest in furthering non-traditional, Northern-led education that is dynamic, responsive to the needs of students, and accessible to all.


Paul Betsina  is the appointed Board of Directors member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Paul serves as a counsellor for the Yellowkives Dene, as well as a board member of the Deton’Cho Corporation, the economic development arm of the Yellowknives Dene.