Education minister open to talks for Burwash Landing school

Education Minister Doug Graham says he's open to discussing the possibility of building a new school in Burwash Landing.

Education Minister Doug Graham says he’s open to discussing the possibility of building a new school in Burwash Landing.

His comments come on the heels of an education agreement signed between the Yukon government and the Kluane First Nation last week.

The five-year agreement calls for education programs that meet the needs of Kluane First Nation students, secondary school programming, language programming, student attendance, staffing, special education services and cultural awareness training for staff.

So far, the agreement only affects the seven students currently studying at Kluane Lake School in Destruction Bay.

“The agreement doesn’t specifically state we’ll be talking about a new school, but the Kluane First Nation has made it clear it’s one of the things they’d like to talk about,” Graham said.

“We’ve told them we don’t have a problem talking about building a new school, but there are a number of things we’d have to settle before we start talking about that.”

That includes finding the right location and deciding who supplies the land, he added.

Graham said a number of students in the area are home-schooled and he’d like to see them return to school as well.

But many students live in the subdivision between Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay, so “it doesn’t make a huge difference where they go to school.”

The First Nation has been lobbying for a school in Burwash Landing since 1917, Chief Mathieya Alatini said.

There are plans to design a new school by the end of the next fiscal year, Alatini said, which will then be presented to the Department of Education.

She wasn’t sure whether the students would be moving into an existing building in Burwash Landing, or a new one.

“When we brought it to our citizens they said they wanted a new school,” she said.

“We have seven students right now and asking for a $10 million school, or even an $8 million school, is a big stretch. We’re trying to be realistic.

“We’d like to keep the cost around $2-3 million for construction.”

In September, a fuel leak at the Kluane Lake School forced students and staff to study in Burwash Landing for the month.

Alatini said residents loved having the students closer to home.

“You see the kids running around and they can have lunch with their families,” she said.

“The daycare kids get to see their older siblings. It felt different in the community.”

The issue has been brought up a few times at the legislative assembly over the years.

In Dec. 2013, NDP education critic Jim Tredger asked then Education Minister Elaine Taylor why Burwash Landing students were being bused 20 kilometres each day to go to school.

Taylor replied that a long-term assessment of Yukon schools was underway.

And in April 2009, former Premier Dennis Fentie stated the Yukon government wouldn’t build a new school in Burwash Landing.

“We already have a public school in the area – it is in Destruction Bay,” he said at the time.

“We’re not going to build a school in Burwash at this time. The only school we’re building next is a replacement for FH Collins.”

As of 2011, the population in Burwash Landing was 95.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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