November 29, 2023

Meta Education

For Better Education

Yukon’s First Nation College Board brings tradition to the classroom in inaugural 12 months

Yukon’s First Nation College Board brings tradition to the classroom in inaugural 12 months

The Present22:25Yukon’s First Nation College Board brings tradition to the classroom in inaugural 12 months

Lauren Wallingham and her daughter Leah stroll on a wooded path from their dwelling in Whitehorse to Takhini Elementary College, the place Leah is starting Grade 2. 

Leah says she’s nervous to fulfill her new trainer — however one thing else is new on the college this 12 months, as nicely.

Eight colleges within the Yukon, together with Leah’s, have formally joined the First Nation College Board — the primary of its variety in Canada — after a historic referendum vote final January. Now in its inaugural college 12 months, the purpose of the board is to offer Indigenous folks extra say round schooling and produce cultural data into the classroom. 

College students of any background can attend. As with all Yukon elementary colleges, the First Nation College Board colleges will proceed to comply with British Columbia’s curriculum — however with an extra purpose to return to land-based, conventional studying that pulls from neighborhood knowledge-holders and elders. In doing so, the purpose is to empower and affirm a way of id within the college students. 

“I am hopeful,” Wallingham advised The Present host Matt Galloway of the brand new modifications. “I hope that she’ll be outdoors loads. Studying about this place we reside in, the setting and the traditions that Indigenous folks have.” 

A woman and her two daughters sit on a slide in a school playground, looking to the camera. She is holding both girls on her lap.
Lauren Wallingham and her daughters Rae, left, and Leah, proper. Leah is beginning Grade 2 at Takhini Elementary College, one in every of eight colleges within the Yukon that joined the First Nation College Board. (Lauren Wallingham)

‘The soldiers we did not see’

It is an expertise many Indigenous folks have not had within the Canadian public college system — and that is one thing Melanie Bennett, govt director of the Yukon First Nation Schooling Directorate and member of the Tr’ondёk Hwёch’in First Nation, mentioned she hopes to see change. 

Arguments for the institution of a First Nation-led college board have been largely fuelled by a 2019 report from the auditor basic of Canada, which highlighted a deficiency in help for Indigenous and rural college students within the territory. 

Bennett, who was a major participant in bringing the varsity board to fruition, mentioned she has excessive hopes for what this may imply for Indigenous college students. 

“I feel the largest factor is confidence and being OK realizing who you might be,” Bennett mentioned of the brand new program. 

She describes her grandmother secretly educating her classmates Indigenous language after college. 

“She taught us stitching however she closed the door and taught us tips on how to converse the language on the identical time. These are the soldiers we did not see.”

Takhini Elementary College is pictured in April, 2021. The Whitehorse college is one in every of eight that joined the First Nation College Board. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The following step towards reconciliation

The First Nation College Board is the subsequent step towards reconciliation, mentioned Melissa Flynn, the interim director. Flynn notes the modern college system in Canada strays from the community- and family-based schooling that’s conventional to Indigenous studying. 

“We had our personal methods of realizing and being. How we taught kids and the way they discovered from multigenerational folks of their lives,” mentioned Flynn. 

The expertise of Indigenous folks with schooling in Canada stays fraught as survivors proceed to grapple with the invention of unmarked graves on former residential college websites throughout the nation. In July, Pope Francis referred to as what occurred to Indigenous folks at residential colleges “genocide” — a perception lengthy held by survivors. 

“I feel fact and reconciliation is a duty and a problem for everyone who lives in Canada,” Flynn mentioned.

“So that is actually thrilling to carry folks collectively. It isn’t a ‘them’ and ‘us’ state of affairs anymore. Reconciliation to me means everybody transferring collectively who lives on a conventional territory.” 

A woman walks along a snowy trail, with a dog and people behind her. She is smiling and taking a selfie.
The brand new college board is a ‘actually thrilling’ alternative ‘to carry folks collectively’ in reconciliation efforts, says Melissa Flynn, the board’s interim director. (Melissa Flynn)

Bennett mentioned she recollects college students recognizing images of historic figures like Sir John A. Macdonald, however not Indigenous ones like Francis Pegahmagabow, a First Nations soldier and politician. She attributes this to Westernized schooling, which regularly erases Indigenous heritage from its pages.

Establishing the First Nation College Board was a means of communication, mentioned Flynn. Members of the Yukon First Nations Schooling Directorate reached out to Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents to listen to from them. 

“This subsequent step in reconciliation in our territory is de facto necessary,” Flynn mentioned.

A collaborative effort

At Takhini Elementary College, music and French trainer Dorothy Williams weaves via her classroom as an ensemble of kids holding varied percussion devices sits cross-legged on the ground. Because the jangle and thump of cheerful music ends in a decrescendo, the scholars break into applause. 

A woman stands in a classroom, with xylophones arranged on the floor.
Dorothy Williams, who teaches music and French at Takhini Elementary, hopes to construct robust connections with neighborhood members and elders. (Dorothy Williams)

Williams is not Indigenous, and has been tasked with incorporating Indigenous music into her class. Finally, she hopes to kind an everyday First Nations drumming group in her class led by a neighborhood member. She mentioned she additionally desires to discover conventional Indigenous songs in her classes — however that shall be a collaborative course of.

“Most First Nations songs I can’t sing. I haven’t got permission to. So for me to have connections with neighborhood members and elders for music is extraordinarily necessary.”

The First Nation College Board will assist facilitate these connections, Williams defined. 

“We have challenged the lecturers to consider how to hook up with neighborhood and the way to hook up with land wherever they’re at of their school rooms and their classroom actions,” mentioned Flynn. 

This contains subject journeys, finding out Indigenous literature, and bringing knowledge-holders and elders into the classroom. As for non-Indigenous Yukoners, Flynn says the colleges shall be inclusive of all cultures.

“I hope transferring ahead, the inclusion mannequin of recognizing and celebrating all Yukon college students will come via in what we’re delivering,” she mentioned. 

And because the college 12 months will get underway, neighborhood eyes are on the First Nation College Board to look at its stage of success. Groups from the eight colleges have been introduced collectively earlier than the varsity 12 months started to debate plans and expectations for the brand new framework.

“I feel there is a stage of pleasure. I feel there is a stage of worry of the unknown,” Flynn mentioned of the lecturers and workers.

Making ‘good errors’

Bennett displays on her grandmother educating her tips on how to bead.

“I keep in mind my very first piece. It was a bit orange necklace. I needed to take it aside, I feel six or seven instances as a result of I made a mistake, and my grandmother would say, ‘good mistake’ … I discovered tips on how to make good errors.”

A woman sits on a sofa with a child on her lap. There is a cushion made to resemble a camp fire on the table in front of her.
Bennett, govt director of the Yukon First Nation Schooling Directorate, is pictured together with her grandchild. Bennett remembers her personal grandmother educating her to bead as a baby, and hopes that mentality for studying will carry over within the new college board. (Submitted by Melanie Bennett)

That is the mentality Bennett mentioned she hopes shall be adopted in school rooms. Wanting towards the long run, she mentioned her greatest hope is that these colleges will assist form robust neighborhood members. 

“What actually issues is which you could get up and say ‘I’m’ — and title the place you are from,” Bennet mentioned.

Lauren Wallingham has an analogous hope for her daughter, Leah. 

“It should be their regular, which I am actually enthusiastic about.” 

Produced by Ben Jamieson and Elizabeth Hoath.