Governance is “a huge issue” in the Education Reform Project, said its new co-chair Peter Johnston on Thursday.
The Teslin Tlingit deputy chief was appointed this week to replace Ed Schultz.
Schultz, the former Yukon Council of First Nations grand chief, resigned on April 23rd.
On Tuesday, Johnston attended his first education reform meeting.
He’s hopeful about the process.
“We’re involved in the decision making, and that’s a good start,” he said.
Although Yukon First Nations are entitled to independent education under self-government agreements, many are too small to “do everything on their own,” said Johnston.
And it is in the Yukon government’s best interest to work with First Nations, he added.
If First Nations controlled independent education systems, government money would be transferred to First Nations’ schools.
“And that means less money would be going to YTG,” he said.
Johnston is also co-chair of the Yukon First Nations Education Advisory Committee, which meets quarterly with the territorial government to address education reform.
But quarterly meetings aren’t enough, said NDP education critic Steve Cardiff on Thursday.
“People want to be involved more often than quarterly,” he said.
“First Nations and the community need to have a say in the design and delivery of education programs and how schools operate.”
Governance is a big issue for First Nations when it comes to education, added Liberal education critic Eric Fairclough.
“And last week (Premier Dennis) Fentie took governance off the table.”
The Yukon government won’t devolve or dilute public jurisdiction over education to another government, said Fentie on May 8.
The Education Reform Project executive thinks governance is on the table, said Fairclough.
“But if Fentie won’t devolve or dilute his government’s jurisdiction over education, then is governance on the table or off the table?”
Fentie’s apparent unwillingness to share education governance conflicts with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in’s final agreement.
Section 17.7 of its agreement states: “In relation to education … the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and the Yukon shall … negotiate the division and sharing of responsibility for the design, delivery and administration of programs delivered within the traditional territory.”
“The premier is acting like a big brother who doesn’t want to give up or share authority and power,” said Cardiff.
“But when it comes to education reform, the community and the First Nations need to be included on an ongoing basis.”
Before drafting its final report, due in August, the Education Reform Project team must hold public meetings to consult with Yukon communities.
But the meetings are vacuous, said Cardiff.
A number of position papers have been written as a result of the team’s consultation with First Nations, school councils, and principals.
But the papers haven’t been made public.
“Minister Patrick Rouble stated in the legislature that the Education Reform Project should not advance any positions or position papers until the consultation is complete and everybody’s voices have been heard,” said Liard First Nation chief Liard McMillan.
“So, it’s hypocritical of the Yukon government to have the minister saying that, on one hand, and then the premier is actually advancing a position, saying that governance is off the table.
“I fundamentally disagree with this, as does chief Darren Taylor in Dawson.”
Governance is an important part of the education system and Yukoners need to be involved in that process, he said.
“And discussions should be surrounding those position papers — the community needs to see something in order to be able to provide an educated and informed response, otherwise what can you respond to?” said McMillan.
“We can’t respond in a vacuum and we can’t respond under the shadows of secrecy and having the co-chairs of the education reform committee be in muzzles, which is one of the primary reasons, I believe, Ed Schultz resigned.”
“These papers would give the public tangible options, ideas — and help to address issues during the community meetings,” said Cardiff.
“But the government has put a gag order on the people involved with the education reform project.”
The public meetings are scheduled in most Yukon communities between now and June 21st.
Rouble refused to be interviewed for this story.