The Yukon officially has a First Nations school board.

Territorial Education Minister Jeanie McLean signed at a press conference Monday two documents materializing the long-awaited initiative – a Ministerial Order formally establishing the Board of Directors and a Letter of Agreement for a interim governance.

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm, who chairs the Yukon Chiefs Committee on Education, co-signed the letter.

“There really are no words to describe the feeling today,” McLean said. “This is a profound moment in our history.”

The signings took place on the 49th birthday of Elijah Smith and other Yukon First Nations leaders Together today for our children tomorrow document in Ottawa, paving the way for Yukon First Nations self-government.

McLean said she delayed signing the ministerial order until the anniversary.

“It’s a massive undertaking,” she said of the founding of the school board, acknowledging the work of Smith and other leaders who came before him.

“…I, for one, am so proud to be on the right side of history, to be here today in the face of a lot of people who might have thought it would fail at this point, but that’s not not the case. . We are here today and we have a lot to celebrate.”

‘How can we usher in new forms of knowledge?’

While the idea of ​​a Yukon First Nations school board had been maturing for years, it came a lot closer to reality in January when voters representing eight of the territory’s nine eligible schools chose to join the board. .

These schools – which include Nelnah Bessie John School in Beaver Creek, St. Elias Community School in Haines Junction, Gray Mountain Elementary School in Whitehorse and Ross River School – will have their local school boards dissolved at the end of the day. of the 2021/22 school year. . They will then report to the five-member Interim Governance Committee until November 2022, when an election will be held for Board members.

Melanie Bennett, executive director of the Yukon First Nations Education Branch, said it will take time to transition schools to the board, to hear the priorities of each school community, and to create a sustainable system. .

“It’s not just a flick of a switch,” she said.

Although schools will continue to use the British Columbia curriculum, students can expect new programming initiatives under the direction of the Yukon First Nations School Board, including an emphasis on on-the-job learning.

Tizya-Tramm said these new programs will be crucial.

“Children in the Yukon today can read textbooks, even those in British Columbia, but can they read the land?” He asked. “Because the earth is our original teacher – how can we usher in new forms of knowing, ways of being, ways of knowing?”

Like McLean, he recognized the significance of the signing of the Ministerial Order and Letter of Understanding on the 49th anniversary of together today brought to Ottawa, noting that Yukon First Nations had been fighting for more than a century to regain control of their children’s education.

“This restitution of authority…is in direct contrast to the widespread First Nations experience of having things taken away from them – land, language, culture, children, but not today. It’s a big reversal,” he said.

“…Non-First Nations and First Nations together ushered in this change and demanded reconciliation, now.”

“We moved mountains”

Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Chief Steve Smith, son of Elijah Smith, also praised the decades of work leading up to Monday, adding that he hoped his father was encouraged by how far First Nations in the Yukon today.

His father, he said, had always stressed the importance of education for his people, including when he came home from his first day of school 47 years ago and said he wanted Stop.

“He encouraged me directly as a parent – education, education, education. ‘You can’t speak for our people if you don’t know what you’re talking about, and you certainly can’t speak for our people if you don’t.” I don’t know the language of government,” Steve Smith recalls.

“It’s been a long journey,” he continued, “but we’ve moved mountains and we’re looking now, we’re on top of this mountain and we’re looking ahead – where are our people going?

“And I hope our young people take on that responsibility when it’s presented to them…that responsibility to one another, and I think if we continue to be who we are, the Yukon will be better off for it.”