Yukon First Nation chiefs are calling Ottawa back to the table to talk about education.
In 1964, the federal government transferred responsibility for First Nation education to the territory.
In the early 1970s, the Yukon Native Brotherhood presented Ottawa with the landmark document, Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow. Among other things, it emphasized the need for education to be relevant to First Nations students.
Fourteen years later, the Kwiya Report said the territory had only provided equal access to education but had done nothing in terms of providing adequate support systems or specific programming.
Now, more than 40 years after Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow, the chiefs of the Council of Yukon First Nations have signed off on a memorandum of understanding they hope will reconnect the three levels of government on education.
“I look at it as an opportunity to talk about … how we’re going to have higher graduation rates, better attendance, more opportunities that are culturally appropriate in the school, more of our culture and heritage and past reflected in the curriculum,” said Chief Peter Johnston, of the Teslin Tlingit Council.
“The most important thing is how all these responsibilities are going to unfold. Who takes on what?”
There are two main reasons why Yukon chiefs want Ottawa to focus on education.
Firstly, the Yukon is often excluded from federal First Nation education initiatives because they are created for “on-reserve” schools and the territory has no reserves.
Secondly the statistics prove the system is failing aboriginal students. But every time Yukon First Nations try to address the issue, Ottawa tells them to go to the territory and the territory tells them to go to Ottawa.
“We’re shortchanged because we’re self-governing,” said Johnston.
“But we still have the same problems as any other First Nations do in trying to get the standard met and get our students achieving at a higher level. We’re progressive so we need to be respected for that too.
“The issues are there. It’s been acknowledged by the auditor general. It’s been recognized by the number of reviews that we’ve done. Let’s start putting some concrete emphasis into it. It’s the kids that are suffering.”
But Johnston said the situation has improved over time.
“I think our school systems are improving to a certain degree,” he said. “I think we are having more advanced kids coming out of the gate. Maybe it’s life and the evolution of humans that’s pushing that, but since I’ve graduated there’s definitely a lot more support for our students than when I went to school 25 years ago.”
Meanwhile, the chiefs also took a swipe at the federal omnibus crime bill.
“This bill will take away the years of work and effort done to create restorative and alternative land-based systems that in our opinion, promote the rehabilitation of our people,” said Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie in a news release.
“It will also take away many current government-to-government initiatives that are being done to alter sentencing methods such as the First Nation circle sentencing, and community sentencing.”
The chiefs called the proposed legislation “punitive and hostile.”
“As First Nations, we view rehabilitation and prevention as the best approach to protecting public safety,” said the news release.
The chiefs also pointed out that Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, will disproportionately affect aboriginal populations in Canada.
Under this proposed legislation, the number of “low level offenders and marginalized people, low income and racial minorities will increase,” the release said.
Bill C-10 has already been passed by the House of Commons and is currently before the Senate.
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