First Nation education commission marred by confusion

It's taken almost three decades for Yukon First Nations to create a First Nations Education Commission, and now that they have it, there is still disagreement over exactly how it will run.

It’s taken almost three decades for Yukon First Nations to create a First Nations Education Commission, and now that they have it, there is still disagreement over exactly how it will run.

“It’s been on for a long time, this process of trying to establish an education commission. Nearly 28 years, now I think. This is the closest we’ve come to having all the First Nations on board,” said Math’ieya Alatini, chief of the Kluane First Nation.

At a Council of Yukon First Nations leadership meeting last week, chiefs passed a resolution on the terms of reference for the education commission. It’s the second time they’ve tried – something similar was signed in 2011, but it was never implemented.

“I think there was some uncertainty in who was going to be the head, and some reluctance to having CYFN be the head if it didn’t represent all the First Nations,” said Alatini.

After signing last week’s new terms of reference, Grand Chief Ruth Massie said that the commission would be made up of all the education directors from each of the Yukon’s 14 First Nations and would report to the CYFN.

“The recommendations come to our leadership table for approval. CYFN will be the central authority on education and the chair of FNEC,” Massie said in an interview last week.

Apparently she misspoke.

“The leadership table (meaning the 11 CYFN member chiefs) are going to be the decision-makers,” Massie said yesterday.

“The education commission will run exactly like our health one. They’ll do their own agendas; they’ll do their own work. When they need the support to go forward, they will bring their recommendations to the leadership table. The chiefs will confirm the recommendation and the work going forward because they need that political support,” she said.

The CYFN’s education department will be only one part of the education commission, with no more power than the other members.

“It will be part and parcel,” Massie said. “They will be the co-ordinator of FNEC meetings, calling the meetings, setting the agenda, addressing concerns, issues and so on and so forth,” she said.

In negotiations with the other chiefs, Massie had been pushing for the CYFN to head the education commission, but the other chiefs refused, insisting that the commission must be separate from the CYFN’s day-to-day operations.

At the moment, the FNEC’s focus is on the kindergarten to Grade 12 education system, but Massie said she hopes to include Head Start programs and post-secondary education under the commission’s purview in the future.

There is also the problem of how to include the three First Nations that haven’t signed self-government agreements and are not part of the CYFN.

Part of the negotiation process for the education commission meant signing a memorandum of understanding with the federal government and Yukon’s Education Department. That was done in the fall, but the three First Nations that aren’t part of the CYFN – The Liard First Nation, The Ross River Dena Council and the White River First Nation – haven’t signed because they don’t sit at the CYFN leadership table.

“It is a stand-alone group,” said Alatini. “It does have that separation between CYFN and the membership issues around that, but the non-member First Nations can sign on, because we want non-self-governing nations to sign on.”

But in order for them to be part of the party, the three unsigned First Nations have to sign on to the MOU with Canada and the Yukon.

“You have to sign on to the MOU in order to become a member of the education commission. I thought that was kind of restrictive,” Alatini said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

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