A Yukon Party government snub has pushed the Kwanlin Dun First Nation to build its own school, says chief Mike Smith.
“We are going to look into having our own education system,” said Smith after watching question period in the public gallery on Monday.
“We will be passing legislation, and it will knock out YTG’s legislation,” he said.
The legislation needed for Kwanlin Dun to ‘draw down’ education — a right guaranteed to the First Nation government under its final agreement — will be passed in early 2007, said Smith.
That drastic move follows a dearth of consultation on a long-proposed school in Copper Ridge, he said.
The lack of discussion flies in the face of the First Nation’s final agreement, which states that all government infrastructure projects worth more than $3 million should first be offered to Kwanlin Dun contractors, he said.
“We may get press releases or see e-mails, but there’s been absolutely no discussions” about the Copper Ridge school, he said.
The school at the centre of the controversy was first pledged by the Yukon Party during the Copperbelt byelection to replace Yukon Party MLA Haakon Arntzen in 2005.
But in the Kwanlin Dun’s relocation agreement, a promise to build a school for the First Nation goes back to the 1980s, said Smith.
“We think that Kwanlin Dun has been waiting in line for a long time for a school,” he said.
“Obviously, they’re moving ahead without us. And there’s been absolutely no consultation with us to date.”
Next week, a consultant company from Victoria, sole-sourced by the government, will begin studying school infrastructure in Whitehorse.
Smith expects a call, but no meaningful discussions about the school, he said.
“We’re just basically window dressing, to say that they’ve consulted with us. There’s no listening to us on these issues.”
The Kwanlin Dun intends to build a school geared towards trades training and First Nations students, to prevent them from being “alienated” as they are in the current system, said Smith.
“It’s going to be a well-qualified school, it’s going to be a voluntary school,” he said.
Premier Dennis Fentie is aware of the Kwanlin Dun’s intentions to build a school. Like many First Nations governments, they have the right to do so if they choose, he said.
But Fentie and the Education department are focusing on their main concern — pressure points in three growth areas in Whitehorse: Porter Creek, Copper Ridge and F.H. Collins Secondary school, which is nearing the end of its useful life, he said.
“What we’re dealing with is public schools within the public education system,” said Fentie.
“Of course they’ll be consulted — all First Nations with respect to the school planning study will be consulted with as governments,” said Fentie.
“That’s a fact.”
But Fentie’s former minister of Education is unimpressed.
“We have to recognize that Kwanlin Dun is a self-governing First Nation,” said McIntyre-Takhini MLA, John Edzerza, who once sat in Fentie’s cabinet but crossed the floor to the New Democrats.
“These talks should have taken place well ahead of the First Nation hearing about it on the radio or in the media,” said Edzerza of the school in Copper Ridge.
During his days in the Yukon Party, he pushed for consultations with the Kwanlin Dun about the planned school, said Edzerza said.
“In my opinion I wasn’t heard, and maybe that’s part of the reason I am where I am now,” he said.