It was decades in the making, but the Council of Yukon First Nations is now responsible for the Yukon Native Language Centre (YNLC).
On Jan. 17, CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston and Minister of Education, Tracy-Anne McPhee announced the Yukon government was transferring control of the YNLC to CYFN.
“I’d like to once again thank the minister and her department for the bold step in regards to passing over the keys to the car if you will,” said Johnston. “We’ve been in the backseat long enough and I think today, as I said, is a great day for us.”
Johnston said the centre, established in 1977, was, for a long time, seen as a training ground for Yukon government employees.
He said First Nations people look at the centre’s long history and want to know where the fluency in Indigenous languages is. He said it’s a concern that “we are on borrowed time when it comes to our elders and we need to really be very sensitive to the fact that we only have so many fluent speakers.”
One of the goals for the centre, under CYFN direction, is to go into the communities and find out what people’s priorities are in terms of language.
“We’re on first base going for home and we have never been on base before. So the idea is we’re going to second next and that will be a consultation back to the people,” said Johnston.
Some will just want to learn a few phrases. Others will want to be fluent.
“At the end of the day the importance is that First Nations have control of the language, and how it’s being distributed here in the territory is something we really need to reflect on here today.”
McPhee said the government will continue to provide $450,000 in funding each year.
This transfer of control supports one of the calls to action — to enact an Aboriginal Languages Act — outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s final report. The recommendation was that the federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds for the preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Indigenous languages. It also noted that preservation is best managed by Indigenous people themselves.
The five staff members who were employed at the centre through the Department of Education are no longer there as of Jan 17. The centre will now be staffed under management of CYFN. Johnston said council needs to define what the YNLC will look like going forward.
He said CYFN will continue working with the government on curriculum, how language is being taught in classrooms now, and what a First Nations school could look like, but he said he thinks the news is bigger than a school.
“This is about our way of life. It’s about our culture. It’s about our preservation. It’s about our identity. The school system does not define how our language is. It is the fundamental foundation that we stand on as First Nations people.”
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