8 Yukon schools to vote on whether to join First Nations school board framework

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Johnson Elementary School in Watson Lake, Yukon, is among the schools taking part in the referendum vote in January. (Roxanne Coles - image credit)
Johnson Elementary School in Watson Lake, Yukon, is among the schools taking part in the referendum vote in January. (Roxanne Coles - image credit)

There are now eight Yukon schools that will participate in the school board referendum in January.

The vote will determine whether schools will join the First Nation School Board Framework Agreement. If a school council votes yes, the local school council would be dissolved, and the First Nations school board would run that school or schools starting in 2022-2023.

The new board would have responsibility for selecting staff including principals and teachers, approving school plans, providing educational programming for students, and establishing schools' operational policies. It would also manage funds provided by the Department of Education, and provide reports to the minister.

Schools under the First Nations board would be open to all students. They would continue to "draw upon" the B.C. curriculum, according to a previous Department of Education news release, though the board "will decide on teaching materials, resources and approaches."

School councils and communities will also have the opportunity to pass a resolution or submit a petition for the 2023-2024 school year at a later date, according to a news release from the Yukon government.

Results to be announced Jan. 31

Currently, schools are operated by the Department of Education, which works in collaboration with elected school councils that have limited authority over decisions about how schools are operated.

"The change that's happening here is that under the Education Act, there's an ability to create school boards, which have much more authority in decision making, on how schools operated in a particular community," said Ryan Sikkes, assistant deputy minister with the education department.

"Next month, there will be eight referenda where communities will have a choice on whether to take greater local control over the operation of their schools, through a school board."

Sikkes said schools are a reflection of the community they serve and this referendum will prove that.

"It's essential that all our students in Yukon have a maximum opportunity to learn about Yukon's First Nations ways of knowing, doing, history, culture and language and this is an exciting development to move that forward," Sikkes said.

"A First Nation school board will have the ability to make sure that the curriculum is developed in a way that maximizes the student's ability to have an opportunity to be educated in an Indigenous worldview … at the forefront of all that is taught and learned at the school."

Voting in the school areas will run from Jan. 11 to 27, with results announced Jan. 31. The Yukon government and the Chiefs Committee on Education (CCOE) announced the finalization of the Yukon First Nation School Board Framework Agreement in June.

The agreement sets out the process for the creation of a First Nation School Board under the Education Act.

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The announcement of the First Nation School Board Framework Agreement last spring was heralded as a watershed moment by some Indigenous leaders in the territory.

Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm called it "a turning point in history, both at a national and territorial level," and said it offered a potential "paradigm shift" for the many Indigenous students who have struggled under the current education system.

The schools involved in the referendum, as of Dec. 13, are:

  • Chief Zzeh Gittlit School

  • Grey Mountain Primary School

  • Johnson Elementary School and Watson Lake Secondary School, one referendum

  • Ross River School

  • St. Elias Community School

  • Takhini Elementary School

  • Nelnah Bessie John School

  • J.V. Clark School

"Every child deserves to have access to high-quality education that is grounded in community values," said Jeannie McLean, minister of education, in a statement.

"By working with Yukon First Nation governments to create strong learning opportunities for Yukon children, we are advancing reconciliation and providing them with valuable skills and experiences that they will carry with them throughout their lives."

Under the referendum process, any adult Canadian living in a school's attendance area or who has a child attending that school can cast a ballot. Voting will be overseen by Elections Yukon on behalf of Yukon's Education department.

Chief Electoral Officer Max Harvey said Elections Yukon is "committed to ensuring a fair, transparent and compliant vote process" for the referendum.

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