Chiefs must stop talking and start working

Several Yukon First Nations apparently want to establish their own education system. It must be nice to have money to burn.

Several Yukon First Nations apparently want to establish their own education system.

It must be nice to have money to burn.

There are many in the aboriginal community who see a homemade education system as a way to ease kids through school.

It’s a nice sentiment.

It’s little else.

First Nation chiefs routinely complain about a lack of consultation on education issues.

Then they unilaterally declare they will draw down responsibility for education from the territory.

And yet, for all the chiefs’ divisive talk, we’ve seen little from them in the way of concrete studies proving First Nations can improve things for aboriginal youth by going it alone.

No plans. Nothing.

Building an education system takes time and money. Lots of both.

We doubt local First Nations have either.

In the 21st century, the needs of native children are no different than those of the non-natives. They must exit the school system with skills that allow them to succeed in the wider world. Period.

So the question is: how best to do that?

Several chiefs want to build a parallel education system.

The Kwanlin Dun’s chief Mike Smith is one of those.

The First Nation has been waiting since the 1980s for its own school, he said.

Smith should simply look across Hamilton Boulevard.

Elijah Smith Elementary was built in the early 1990s as a compromise, a bridge between the Yukon’s two solitudes.

Because of that, the government built an edifice. It was one of the most expensive and beautiful schools in the territory.

Smith has suggested it is a not a native school.

“We’re simply being forced to go to their schools and not ours,” he said.

That is disingenuous. And a tad insulting to a dedicated staff at Elijah Smith.

Through the years, it has bolstered its native curriculum.

Today, it teaches native language, native arts; it hosts cultural camps and has a solid base of aboriginal teachers.

Hardly a “white” school.

In fact, through the efforts of its dedicated staff, these days it is filled to capacity — a far cry from seven years ago when a falling enrollment was costing it programs and teachers.

Today, it offers hope the territory’s various cultures can work together.

And it isn’t the only school doing this.

Carmacks has also tweaked its curriculum to accommodate native students. And it has seen a tremendous increase in aboriginal graduates.


Once again, it has a dedicated, imaginative and caring staff.

These are no longer the shameful days of residential schools.

If First Nations leaders want to better the education of youth, there are better ways than sapping resources and students from the established education system.

They could, for example, take a more active role in building the system.

The existing public system isn’t perfect, but there are signs of improvement. And there’s tangible proof of success.

That deserves support from political leaders, not derision.

Duplicating education services and staff to build a segregated system would simply squander First Nation settlement money.

Of course, as Yukon chiefs know, it plays well to their constituents.

But there’s no hard data to show it will work.

Preparing children for life in the 21st century takes more than sentimentality.

It takes money. And commitment.

Yukon chiefs would do better to stop the divisive trash talk and start the hard work of building on the notable successes within the existing education system. (RM)

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