An First Nation high school would fail not just aboriginal students, but non-aboriginal students, too, said Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Joe Linklater.
“We live in a multicultural territory and I’m not entirely convinced having our students go to an all-First Nation high school would be a full benefit,” he said Friday during the release of the $1.5 million, 250-page Education Reform Project report.
Linklater sits on the project’s executive committee alongside Liard Chief Liard McMillan and Education Minister Patrick Rouble.
The report recommends the government, with the help of Yukon First Nations, “implement a plan to initiate and operate a Yukon First Nations secondary school.”
All Yukon students will miss education opportunities if such a school is built, said Linklater.
“I would rather see more culture and language brought into the regular school system and exposing non-First Nation students to our culture,” he said.
“That way we become a much more understanding society as a result.”
Rouble, also at the media briefing, did not rule out building a First Nation secondary school.
The report recommends more money for First Nation language promotion and education, and developing curriculum with more traditional history and culture.
“I understand the logic behind having the school, but there are eight traditional languages in the territory and I don’t see how the school would benefit First Nation students,” said Linklater.
The issue needs to be studied more thoroughly, he added.
The final report, a draft of which was leaked to the media late last year, has been sent to First Nation communities and roughly 170 education stakeholders for review.
The Education department is planning March meetings to discuss implementation strategy and get feedback.
“The meetings will provide open and honest dialogue needed for positive change in the education system,” said Rouble.
In 2002, the Education department started reviewing the Yukon’s Education Act, but the territory’s First Nations left the process claiming it was incomplete.
The Education Reform Project was launched in response and was tasked with reviewing public school governance, decentralization of decision-making, and First Nation-specific issues.
Committee members studied and consulted, trying to find answers to the disparity of success in the education system between First Nation and non-First Nations.
Changes are already being felt because of the report and the project’s work, said Linklater, who added that he’s satisfied with the final draft.
“What we’ve seen in the past is, the department and stakeholders handcuffed by policies and, hopefully, these recommendations will lead to policy changes and closer working relationships,” said Linklater.
“Changes are happening at the community level, rather than the (Education) department handing them down.”
With an emphasis on school-council-based decisions, allowing each First Nation and other towns to tailor education to local needs, the report is flexible and open-ended in a good way, said Linklater.
It allows First Nations to improve education, but if the changes don’t go far enough, the communities can draw down the decision-making power, he added.
Recommendations include guaranteeing First Nations are represented on school councils in proportion to community demographics and creating a third assistant deputy minister position in Education responsible solely for First Nation programs and services.
Many of the recommendations address improvements to information sharing, and collaboration between First Nation communities and government departments.
Creating more opportunities for First Nations in education training and employment is also emphasized.