Bob Dickson, the chair of the Chiefs Committee on Education, speaks to media about a report that found Yukon First Nation students may not be receiving adequate schooling during a breifing in Whitehorse on June 20. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

UPDATED: YG is ‘failing’ First Nations students, says chair of the Chiefs Committee on Education

Bob Dickson said the Yukon government’s unilateral approach to education ‘doesn’t fly’ anymore

The chair of the Chiefs Committee on Education is railing against the Yukon government following the release of an auditor general’s report that found First Nations students may not be receiving adequate schooling.

Bob Dickson told media June 20 that the report is clear in that the Department of Education is “failing” First Nations students in the Yukon.

The department, he continued, is dictating the terms of education in the territory.

“I think it’s appalling that the government continues to say that they’re making progress and they’re working with us when their view of working with us is telling us what to do. That doesn’t fly with the Chiefs Committee on Education anymore.”

The auditor general’s report, released on June 18, found that the department can’t ascertain whether what it’s doing is improving outcomes for First Nations, special needs and rural students, suggesting they’re being underserved.

The bulk of the report deals with First Nations students. It determined that they continue to fare worse in school than their counterparts, a circumstance that hasn’t significantly changed in the past 10 years. Not enough has been done to institute Yukon First Nations languages and culture in curriculums, the report also says.

“Ten years ago they had the same report with the same results,” Dickson said. “It’s not working and we’re still at the table going through the same situation where nothing’s changed. Now it’s time for a change.”

Dickson said a meeting with Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee was hosted at the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) on June 18. It went “poorly,” he said.

“We laid out the options that the First Nations see for moving forward as true partners,” he said. “True partners don’t mean that YTG comes to us and says, ‘This is what we’re gonna give you, and you take it.’ True partners means we work together, we develop solutions and we move forward together. It’s not a take it or leave it attitude.”

In an interview June 24, McPhee said incorporating Yukon First Nations’ priorities into the education system is work that’s ongoing.

Asked to reply to some of Dickson’s comments, McPhee said the Liberals have been trying to restore trust and good relations, implying fault of prior governments.

“We believe that the foundation of good government here in the territory and, in fact, in Canada requires us to have solid, great working relationships with First Nations …” she said.

McPhee suggested the meeting at CYFN was productive, contradicting Dickson.

“I’m a bit surprised, I’ll say, about the characterization that the meeting went poorly because it was extensive, there were lots of parties there and certainly it was a frank and complicated conversation, but I know at the end of that meeting we agreed to work together going forward.”

Asked for examples of work that’s been happening, McPhee said the Yukon Forum, which occurs four times annually, routinely addresses education. Her department has also worked on a manifold of issues with the Chiefs Committee on Education, she said, including hiring an assistant deputy minister that’s in charge of First Nations initiatives.

While the education system here is an import from British Columbia, it includes Yukon First Nations’ “knowing and ways of doing at every grade level,” McPhee said.

She said the joint action plan, signed in 2014, has been “reinvigorated” (A revised curriculum that reflects First Nations’ culture and languages comes from the plan, which was spurred in 2014.)

Asked how and what this means, she said, “Before we came to office, I understand that the work on that had stalled,” going on to say that parties have agreed to “re-establish” meetings relevant to the plan.

“I appreciate the opportunity to say that we share and appreciate frustration of First Nations. We know this is a long-standing issue,” McPhee said. “We are committed, absolutely, to improving our relationships with Yukon First Nations on many education fronts, but also on a path to success that will come from collaboration and remembering that the absolute critical piece in this is the success of our students.”

Dickson said First Nations should have more power when it comes to designing curriculums, and the education system in general.

Asked if he means total control, he said, “Yeah, sure.”

Millions of dollars, Dickson said, from First Nations’ purses are being sunk into programs in order to prime students for post-secondary, which shouldn’t be happening.

And further, First Nations learn differently, he said.

“We have a traditional way of learning that is more oral than the European way of learning, where everything’s in books on text and on paper.”

Dickson said a balance should be struck between these going forward.

“You can’t just stuff an Indigenous individual into a school and say, ‘You’re gonna learn this way.’”

The auditor general report includes seven recommendations for the department to make good on, including creating a strategy that addresses root causes of poor outcomes of First Nations students, crafting a policy to solidify collaboration with First Nations, drawing up policies that support their languages and teacher training.

McPhee recently told the News that all recommendations have been accepted.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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