The First Nation School Board in Yukon relies on parental votes


Vancouver – Parents at eight Yukon schools are voting on a proposal to put their children’s education in the hands of local bands, an attempt by an official to say that it began more than 50 years ago.

Parents are voting on a proposal to create a First Nations school board with the authority to hire staff, review and modify school plans, and request that the education program be provided in the local language.

Melanie Bennett, executive director of the First Nations Education Directorate, said the effort to establish the First Nation School Board in the province dates back to 1973.

Bennett, from Trondek Hwitchin First Nation in Dawson City, said the board will give local children the opportunity to improve their past and educate them from local and non-Indigenous perspectives.

“It’s about the model of coordination and to do that, you have to provide a platform that both worlds can embrace,” he said.

Directorate is an independent organization established in 2020 to help First Nations gain greater control over education.

The school board is unique because it involves a number of First Nations across the region, rather than a band of reserves that take responsibility for education, Bennett added.

The proposed school board framework agreement was signed in June between the Department of Education and 10 of Yukon’s 14 First Nations. It aims to improve education for local students and to provide them with culturally appropriate teaching.

Nearly 23 percent of public school students in the region self-identified as Yukon First Nations in 2018-19.

In its 2019 report, the Territory’s auditor general said local children routinely lack academic support to help them succeed in school and graduate. The report said Yukon failed to adequately reflect the culture and language of First Nations in the classroom.

Bennett said the local school board will go a long way to fixing those issues.

“You need to address the low-expectations racism that happens with local students,” he said, noting that research found that 80 percent of local kindergarten children need extra help in their schoolwork.

Eight schools will hold separate votes on whether to approve the creation of the board. If more than 50 per cent of parents vote in any school, the board will manage that school.

If approved, five board of trustees will have an election in March. Schools operated by the new board are not exclusive to local students and any child can enroll.

Dunda Tija-Tram, head of the Vundut Gwichin, who also chairs the Committee on Education, said the importance of the proposal cannot be understated.

“This is an opportunity for innovators to break through the walls of pre-existing education systems,” he said. “This will not have a negative impact on non-Indigenous students.”

The committee was set up a few years ago to improve the educational outcomes of local children and youth.

Tizya-Tramm said the board will help establish a common ground between local and non-Indigenous groups.

Lauren Wallingham, who attends one of the schools voting on the proposed board, said she believes it will benefit all students to teach local vision.

“It’s not big as an add-on. It’s great to integrate in a real way,” he said.

A native of Wallingham, Takhini Elementary School in Whitehorse was part of a group that urged parents to participate in a referendum.

He said most of the parents he spoke to were open to the referendum after the school board explained to them.

Voting runs until January 27 but regardless of the outcome, Bennett hopes the process will inspire others around the country.

“As a starting point, it’s very positive,” he said.

January 9, 2022.

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