From beading to diaper making, incoming Yukon teachers learn First Nations basics

The school year in Yukon is approaching but some teachers have already started working — learning about the territory's First Nations.

Thirty-five teachers, all about to teach in the territory for the first time, participated in an orientation week that included lessons and activities from Yukon First Nations elders and leaders, and Yukon's Department of Education staff.

"I think what sticks out is how I need to educate myself about First Nations, and how little I know about their ways and their traditions," Emilie Lefrançois, a participant, said on Wednesday.

Two days of the event were spent in Brooks Brook, Yukon, which is about a 25-minute drive west of Teslin.

The teachers participated in diaper making, sewing, beading, and storytelling, among other activities.

Lefrançois, who previously taught in Labrador and in Toronto, will be teaching in Whitehorse. She said she went on a canoe ride on Monday, her first time on a boat of that sort.

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She said she appreciates the networking opportunities, especially as a new teacher, and how open everyone was to asking and answering questions.

Lefrançois said she has been inspired to have sharing circles with her students, and she hopes to encourage their curiosity.

"I think it's important for them to know where they come from and what land they're on," she added.

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René Dove, director of First Nations Programs and Partnerships with the education department, said the aim is to have teachers apply their nascent knowledge into their respective classrooms.

"I think it's becoming more and more important as we're recognizing that we have a large population of Yukon First Nations in the schools, and their culture has been pretty much ignored in the classroom," Dove said.

If teachers want to improve the experiences of those and other students, this event is valuable, she said.

"By no means are they gonna have everything that they need to know when they leave here, but we're helping to give them tools on how to make those connections with the First Nations and start their own learning journey," Dove said.

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The current school curriculum, which will be fully implemented this year, includes First Nations content in every grade and every class, Dove said.

The event is held every year and can also include principals, vice principals, and educational assistants.

Dove, a science teacher, said she went on a medicine plant walk with an elder, and she saw the connections the elder made with biology.

"She understands the properties of those plants and how they affect our body and how they can be used as medicines," Dove said, adding that that traditional knowledge can be incorporated into teaching.

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Brad Mainse, a physical education teacher, said he has taught in British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

"What I've learned so far is just reinforcing what I've learned in my past to continue carrying on, and that's just the value of the core values of respect, working together, communication," he said.

Tracy-Anne McPhee, the minister of education, attended part of the event.

"We have not, as a government and as a department, been as successful as we need to be in our work with Yukon First Nations, in particular in education area," she said during a speech.

"Our government believes in reconciliation."