An agreement between a committee of First Nations Chiefs and the Yukon government is being hailed by its signatories as an important early step in offering Yukon First Nations communities greater control over how their children are educated.
On June 3, the territorial government and the Chiefs Committee on Education announced the finalization of a framework agreement that plans for the creation of a First Nation School Board managing First Nations-focused schools.
The agreement, which was signed by representatives of 10 Yukon First Nations and the Yukon government, intends to improve education outcomes for First Nations students.
The solution they are working toward will create a First Nations School Board that signatories to the agreement say will provide high quality and culturally appropriate education based on an indigenous worldview.
At a press conference announcing the finalization of the agreement, Jeanie McLean, Education Minister, and Dana Tizya-Tramm, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation chief and chair of the Chiefs Committee on Education, spoke of the First Nations schools the board could create.
“Our lands and our animals and our plants are our greatest teachers,” Tizya-Tramm said.
“Removing our children, who have historically grown up on the land, and putting them under fluorescent lights is not conducive to the best ways of learning.”
Schools will be operated based on agreements between Yukon First Nations communities and the First Nation School Board. According to the Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Education Directorate, each school will operate differently from the next to reflect the needs of its community and students. They say common threads to be expected at the schools are increased on-the-land and experiential learning, increased First Nations language instruction and elders present in the classroom.
“Our elders are living history books and as opposed to separating them in our societies, they are entrenched. So they will be put front and centre, but it is up to each region, their respective councils, to begin charting that path by the community for the community,” Tizya-Tramm said.
According to information circulated about the future First Nation School Board, existing public schools will be able to become designated as a First Nation School and managed by the new board. According to a Department of Education spokesperson, for this to happen, an existing school council would have to pass a resolution asking that it be dissolved and made part of the First Nation School Board. From there the matter would go to a referendum of the school’s attendance area and if a majority of 50 per cent plus one person is achieved the school would be incorporated into the First Nation School Board.
The framework agreement also specifies that the Yukon government will discuss the construction of new First Nations Schools with the First Nation School Board.
Enrolment in the schools will be open to First Nations and non-First Nations students alike.
McLean said there are a number of steps still remaining to make the First Nation School Board a reality. Both McLean and Tizya-Tramm spoke about the years of work that led to the June 3 announcement.
An election for board trustees will eventually be held. Both voters and trustee candidates will have to be 18-years-old and either residents of the Yukon whose ancestral language is a Yukon First Nation language or parents of children who attend the schools operated by the First Nation School Board. The board will be made up of five trustees.
The trustees will be in charge of selecting staff including principals, teachers and a director of education to act as the board’s CEO.
“I can tell you our government is absolutely committed to see this through and to provide the support that’s needed and required to get us where we want to be,” the Education Minister said.
The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, Carcross/Tagish First Nation, Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation, Ross River Dena Council, Selkirk First Nation, Liard First Nation, Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation and White River First Nation are already signatories to the framework agreement and others will have an opportunity to join in the future.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org