The Chiefs Committee on Education is not impressed with the state of the Yukon’s education system regarding First Nations youth.
Bob Dickson, the Chief of the Kluane First Nation and chair of the committee, shared his views on the Canadian auditor general’s audit of education in the territory. He spoke at a press event last Thursday at the Council of Yukon First Nations office in Whitehorse.
He feels the Department of Education has failed to recognize the difference between rural and urban schools. This includes financing. He explains First Nations councils have had to provide resources into Indigenous language programs.
He adds that the travel time between small communities is misunderstood. He said the time parents and students spent travelling to Whitehorse, from such areas, is time away from that community.
He gave an example from his own community, the Kluane Lake School in Destruction Bay. This school only goes up to Grade 7. Students have to leave the community for high school.
He explained that since the 1950s families have had to move to either Haines Junction or Whitehorse for kids to attend high school.
To combat this, Kluane First Nation has asked the department to provide a high school teacher for Kluane Lake to build capacity in the community. He said this could keep students and families in the area.
The request was denied. He said the department says it is not in a position to make that decision. He is disappointed that the resources are not being allocated.
He explained that the lack of a quality education can negatively impact young people later on in life.
“Without a proper education, citizens do not have the proper opportunities to live a productive life further on,” Dickson said.
He said the First Nations have invested millions of dollars into upgrading education for their students. This is done so Indigenous youth can get into post-secondary studies. He said there should not need to be this investment because youth should be graduating high school with a meaningful diploma that allows them approval into any post-secondary programs desired.
He said the diploma should be enough to get the student into college, university or a trade school.
“I think that’s the short coming of this education system,” Dickson said.
He explained that Indigenous people have a different way of learning. First Nations traditional learning is more orally based than the text book focused European method. He feels there needs to be a balance between the two.
“You can’t just stick an Indigenous individual into a school and say ‘you’re going to learn this way,’” Dickson said.
He adds that Indigenous people have been learning orally for thousands of years. The tribes have survived on the land all that time using oral teachings, he said.
He explains that his grandparents told him where he could hunt and how he would get to the area. Based on that information, he knew how to get around the area.
He said the Yukon government is meeting with First Nations to talk about education. He indicated that there was a meeting at the Council of Yukon First Nations office last Tuesday.
“The discussions are going poorly,” Dickson said.
He explained that the First Nations laid out the options to move forward as true partners with the government. The First Nations did not want the government to just tell them what will happen. They wanted a collaborative approach with both parties working together.
He does not want a take it or leave it attitude from the government.
He said he would like to see First Nations take over education. They have proposed a education director to the government. This should help communities find and implement solutions to help themselves. He did not say who this proposed education director would be.
“It’s not a YTG take it or leave attitude,” Dickson said. “It’s First Nations taking control of their own destinies.”
This could mean 100 per cent control, he said.
As for why the talks went poorly, he said the government does not want to surrender jurisdiction to First Nations. He reports that the government said that education is its department and it would decide how it is run.
He explains this does not work for the First Nations anymore.
“We’ve been doing this for far too long,” Dickson said. “For over 100 years, we’ve been telling YTG, in my case, that its not working in our communities.”
He adds that 10 years ago there was a similar audit completed. That audit showed the same results. He said it is not working and the community is going through the same problems with nothing changing.
“Now it’s time for a change,” Dickson said.
He thinks it is appalling that the government says that it is making progress and is working with First Nations. He feels the territorial government’s view of working with First Nations is tell them what to do.
“That does not fly with the Chiefs Committee on Education anymore,” he said.
He said he would let the report speak for itself, indicating that it stated the education system is failing First Nations students.
The proposed education director would look at various solutions to fix this problem. This could include looking into developing First Nations schools if that is what communities want. The director will focus on the curriculum development as well as cultural and language programs.
He felt that if communities want their own schools, which supported and taught First Nations culture and language, that could be supported.
Dickson is not the only chief expressing concern over the audit. Several chiefs issued statements in a release from the Council of Yukon of First Nations.
Chief Roberta Joseph of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in said this is a critical situation. She adds that the government has no accountability.
“For too long our children have not been receiving an equitable education as other students in the Yukon,” Joseph said in the release. “Equity does not mean equal, it means accessing opportunities tailored to support learners to be successful.”
Chief Simon Mervyn of the First Nation of Na-cho Nyäk Dun is concerned about the future. He fears that Yukon First Nations learnings, cultures and languages could be lost if nothing changes.