Whitehorse Daily Star

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TIME FOR CHANGE – Chief Bob Dickson of the Kluane First Nation serves as chair of the Chief’s Committee on Education. He told a press conference on Thursday the recent auditor general’s audit of the Yukon’s education system confi rms the system is not properly preparing Indigenous students for the future.

Education system failing Indigenous students, says Chief

The Chiefs Committee on Education is not impressed with the state of the Yukon’s education system regarding First Nations youth.

By Gord Fortin on June 24, 2019

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.

Comments (18)

Up 9 Down 1

Reality on Jun 28, 2019 at 9:32 pm

@ we all need the basics - your comments clearly illustrate the problem - there is no us and them, there is no first or second nation (that language is so demeaning) or some more entitled than others because of limited genetic science... the planet is 4 billion years old, we may be in the tenth recycle for all we know, so please get off the anti Canadian separatist soapbox.

Up 2 Down 28

We all need the basics on Jun 28, 2019 at 10:03 am

Dear almost reality, yes the earth and people have been around for a long long time. However, with that said, all the available research to date points to FN occupation here long before your people even knew north america existed. Yes you might be a recent Yukoner and Canadian with some odd entitlement issues, please show a little respect and appreciation, that FNs extended a welcome to all those that chose to leave other places for greener pastures.

Up 3 Down 24

We all need the basics on Jun 27, 2019 at 8:13 pm

Dear we can do better, yes there are FNs students that thrive in the education system. You were/are lucky, many students don't have the supportive, involved parents you did.
Are some parents part of problem? Yes. Is the education part of the problem? Yes. Are some of the commenters part of the problem? Yes.

Up 31 Down 4

Oya on Jun 27, 2019 at 8:25 am

@ we can do better: You sound like the next Clarence Louis. I love, love, love your message. Thank you for saying that which many of us think, but cannot say out loud. Have you ever thought of running for office?

Up 23 Down 4

Wilf on Jun 27, 2019 at 3:30 am

We can do better. You have written one of the greatest pieces I have ever read. Thanks for educating all of us.

Up 9 Down 3

Groucho d'North on Jun 26, 2019 at 7:28 pm

@ Seth Wright
To be clear, my position is that FJN students like most others in these modern times are highly adaptive learners and will easily do what they must to grasp the technology that will be a bigger part of their futures. Each generation has a unique educational culture which includes, the K-12 school system, the amount and type of television in the home, popular culture (movies and music) of the time, advertising trends and in recent history: the computer revolution which spawned multi-media and many new ways to communicate and learn. I believe Yukon students have no difficulty in adopting these modern methods and some will go on to work and develop in these sectors. I further believe they should all be given the opportunity to work as hard as they wish to achieve whatever goals they may have, but it takes a village...

PS: Apologies to Mr. Dickson for mispelling his name earlier

Up 30 Down 9

Reality on Jun 26, 2019 at 6:32 pm

@ response...yup, I was born and raised here, pretty sure I got all kinds of blood lines but I never really checked cause I don’t really care. I have a job, I pay taxes, I respect everyone and I couldn’t care less about cultural stuff. I’m a yukoner, a Canadian, a compassionate person, just like most people. As far as being here first goes, the planet is 4 billion years old so highly unlikely you were here first.

Up 30 Down 5

Michael Storm on Jun 26, 2019 at 5:40 pm

If students do not do well in school they should be given help and they should work harder.

Such a joke to say oral history is a cultural teaching mechanism. Such a joke to blame the educational system and to say it's a cultural thing when the parents and students need to be more engaged.

Up 74 Down 4

We can do better. on Jun 26, 2019 at 2:00 pm

I am an indigenous woman who has been through the Yukon school system, applied myself the entire way, graduated with honours, and gone on to excel in my post secondary studies. I am proud of my education as well as my culture. Proud to be a Yukoner, not just proud to be indigenous. I have witnessed issues with other students all the way through my studies, and I can tell you that the issues rest not with the education system. I had supportive parents and family, who believe that every individual must pull their own weight, and that it is up to you how your life turns out. I have watched students fail all through high school. Not because they were not provided the support. Because they did not want it, and their families did not care enough to help them along. No inspiration, just hands out. Chief Dickson, it is time to take a stand and provide FN people with encouragement from all levels. Laying blame on our education system is pathetic, and lazy. We do not need to separate our cultures further. We need to encourage our children and give them a good, healthy start. Stop the blame and accept responsibility. And to all Yukon students - apply yourselves. It can get better if you believe in yourself. Mahsi.

Up 52 Down 6

@Response on Jun 26, 2019 at 12:29 pm

Cultures that are trapped in the past have no place in the future. "Western" culture has grown and changed over time. Why should we idolize a culture that hasn't? Yes, currently FN students are the lowest common denominator in our school system. We should be raising our expectations of all students. All students need to be encouraged and helped to become more knowledgeable. I believe that FN are as smart and capable as anyone. I believe they can do better, do you?

Up 32 Down 9

Seth Wright on Jun 26, 2019 at 7:59 am

@ Groucho - It’s funny to hear that Indigenous children learn best through oral teachings. This is absolutely contrary to the Indigenous perspective that suggests that the spoken word cannot be trusted, the principle of non-interference [Indigenous World-view], and the inherently cognitive world of observation - learning through watching - Not telling.

Many Indigenous cultures hold that if someone is telling you how to do something then it is a sure sign they do not know what they are doing and should not be trusted.

This idea that one person can speak for all is also not a traditional Indigenous perspective. The learner in the Indigenous sense was to listen, observe, do and take what works from this blending of learning modalities. In the end the Indigenous worldview asserts that it is up to the individual to learn..,

What we are being taught about culture and tradition is at best ignorant and at worst, dangerously misleading. But hey, we have a long proud tradition of working away from our best interests - It is a general human tendency - It is why we have politics whose primary purpose is division and special interest.

Up 13 Down 50

Response--Thumbs down to you on Jun 25, 2019 at 5:33 pm

Hey 'Reality'--you a born Yukoner? Bet not or if you were, a very entitled, narrow minded one. You're not interested in other cultures, YOU leave. FN were here before you. Yes, there's lots of disfunction but why? A long legacy, one you don't care about--many students and adults are interested in changing the future and not leaving it as a trumped down, stupid nation.
'Disappointed'--you have some gall to call FN our lowest common denominator. You are the lowest common denominator, as somebody who is clearly not interested in helping our cultural diversity and instead thinking you are somehow above the FN who have been here for GENERATIONS.
For 'Jason,' go give your spiel to the French high school crowd who think that they are entitled to a 40 million dollar school for a handful of their privileged, elite offspring. Notice there is no First Nation high school, no First Nations resources in schools, and those of you who have commented would like it to stay that way. Education is the way forward. All of you commentators have made it clear that more education needs to be out there, not just in schools for youth, but for the 'hating on FN' sector of our Yukon populace.

Up 14 Down 23

We all need the basics on Jun 25, 2019 at 12:34 pm

When I went to school, "everyone" learned the basics (the three r's) Everyone went to school or someone was asking you why and when at school everyone learned. Now students graduate and don't know how to add, spell, read. If you are at all less then average you are ousted and shoved aside, only the bright students get the teachers attention. We need to get the K-12 system back to providing a solid foundation for ALL students. Some of the comments here are just plain ignorant, open your eyes and see the problems for what they really are and stop dumping on people that have not had the privilege you have had.

Up 69 Down 7

Groucho d'North on Jun 25, 2019 at 9:53 am

I expected nothing less in response to this report on FN youth failing the school system. The excuses put forward by Chief Dixon hold no water; “…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…”
I see numerous young aboriginal people who are quite comfortable and effective at surfing the net and texting with their smartphones, which indicates to me they are adaptable to new learning experiences both orally and in written form.
In case he hasn’t been paying attention, some FN students have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, pilots and engineers and similar profile professions, so the school system does work for those who apply themselves.
Further, Chief Dixon’s position appears to be an argument for gaining control and political power more so than ensuring FN young people acquire the education they will need to succeed in the next fifty years of their lives.
How does he expect these kids to compete with the highly educated students who are dominating the university programs, who were initially educated in Asia or Europe or other places in Canada?
The attitude displayed by Chief Dixon and his contemporaries in the story is what I feel is the root cause of these problems: Nobody is willing to accept any responsibility for these kids, their education and quality of home life.
In the other article on this topic, most comments focus on the capacity of the students being less than ideal due to a lack of support at home and worrisome domestic situations in some homes. Chief Dixon side-stepped this altogether in the same way the final report of the MMIW commission was created to absolve any direct responsibility of the first nation community and their leadership.
Alcohol and drug abuse are rampant yet we all look the other way because it is politically incorrect to talk about that elephant and its impacts on domestic life.
Until these issues can be discussed honestly and for what they truly are, nothing will change and the education audit ten years from now will bear the same results. The students aren’t failing, their lack of support and encouragement at home is.

Up 68 Down 9

Jason on Jun 24, 2019 at 4:50 pm

The Yukon Government, as well as the Canadian Government put a lot of resources into First Nation, all different bands. You want to be a self governing nation then this is the first step. You all have boat loads of cash from our Governments and I'm pretty sure you can afford to build your own High schools and pay teachers. You're a proud self governing nation until the actual government bodies have 'failed' you. Be proactive and get it done, don't come with your hands out every single time.


Up 66 Down 3

Dave on Jun 24, 2019 at 4:44 pm

At the end of the day when you live out in the sticks like I did growing up you aren’t going to receive or have access to the same services as someone in a place like Whitehorse, Toronto, or Vancouver receives. It’s got nothing to do with being failed, it’s a logistical fact of life. I received my entire education thanks to being home schooled while living in the Yukon wilderness and you know what, I did just fine. I worked hard and through applying myself developed a successful career and now enjoy all the trappings of modern life. If I can do it after being educated in a log cabin under Coleman lanterns, anyone can.

Up 64 Down 6

Disappointed on Jun 24, 2019 at 4:18 pm

The dumming down of our education system to cater to the lowest denominator is the real disappointment in our education system.

Up 68 Down 8

Reality on Jun 24, 2019 at 2:55 pm

Somebody has to step up and start taking responsibility and it sure ain’t the heavily burdened taxpayer. Indigenous groups ( whatever that means in today’s world), need to take responsibility for their kids and stop blaming everybody else. You think you can do a better job than do it yourself and stop fighting a system that you seem to say doesn’t work for you. And as much as it hurts to hear, not everyone is interested in other cultures.

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