‘A lot of hopes and dreams’: First Nations school board now a reality in Yukon

The new board will allow for First Nations’ communities to have greater oversight over education.

Yukon’s newest school board is now up and running. The First Nations School Board (FNSB), which has been in development for the last few years, became fully operational at the end of August when most schools in the territory opened for the new school year.

Eight schools across Yukon voted to join the board in January.

Now three weeks in, the board’s interim executive director, Melissa Flynn, a Tr’ondëk Hwëchin First Nation citizen with Kwanlin Dün First Nation ancestry, said it’s been a hectic but rewarding transition.

“It’s been a really busy three weeks, but all very exciting and we’re supporting as much as we can where we can,” she told APTN News.

The overall goal of the board is to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous students. Two dismal auditor general reports from 2009 and 2019 found the territory was failing to meet the needs of its Indigenous students.

Flynn said the hope is that having a First Nations’ centred board in place will allow for First Nations communities to have greater say in the education of their children while also incorporating traditional ways of knowing and doing into the classroom.

While FNSB schools will continue to follow British Columbia’s curriculum, the board will decide on teaching materials, resources and approaches. That could include things like Elders in the classroom, learning on the land and enhanced First Nations’ language instruction.

“(What we’re doing is) building and bridging connections to every single one of those First Nations, the land they live on and the language that their ancestors spoke and still speak to this day,” Flynn said.

“Those are the changes we want to see, how do we break away from a Eurocentric education system, and how do we start bringing in our world views.”

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Flynn said while the board is still in its early stages for now, decisions will be made down the road about “big picture changes.”

“We’re supporting in a holistic way, so that the changes the staff, teachers and administrators are seeing; our organization, how we conduct meetings, how we include everybody in meetings; those are the changes I think people are seeing so far, and that’s what we’re hoping,” she said.

She noted the board is also responsible for hiring teachers which has been challenging due to a teacher shortage.

“We are working with staff and principals, getting hiring happening, getting people in the building who can support classrooms so that learning isn’t interrupted,” she said.

Next steps for the board include electing trustees who will sit on the board for the next three years. Other school communities interested in joining the board will be able to do so next year.

Flynn said she’s excited for what’s to come.

“There are a lot of hopes and dreams…We really want students this year to start seeing themselves in the classroom. We want the reading books to reflect the land we live on, and the people we live with.”

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