The newly-minted Yukon First Nations School Board elected its trustees. Now what?

Melanie Bennett, executive director of the Yukon First Nation Education Directorate, has high hopes for what the new school board will mean for Indigenous students. (Alistair Maitland Photography - image credit)
Melanie Bennett, executive director of the Yukon First Nation Education Directorate, has high hopes for what the new school board will mean for Indigenous students. (Alistair Maitland Photography - image credit)

The newly-formed First Nations School Board elected its first five trustees on Monday.

The twelve candidates on the ballot showcased a who's-who of Indigenous leadership, education and academia throughout the Yukon.

Ultimately, five candidates were selected for the new job: Dana Tizya-Tramm, Erin Pauls, Jocelyn Joe-Strack, Shadelle Chambers, and Gillian Staveley.

The next steps are about how and when the new trustees will take on the work they've been selected to do.

Collaboration set to continue

An Interim Governance Committee (IGC) of six members ran the First Nations School Board after its establishment in February.

The territorial Education Department appointed all six members of the committee from a list of candidates selected by the Chiefs Committee on Education (CCOE), a group formed in 2018 to negotiate the territory's approach to First Nations education.

Max Harvey, CEO of Elections Yukon, said they made the decision with the IGC to hold the election this November instead of right after the board's formation earlier this year to give them more time to prepare for its sheer scale.

"We've never had one of this size and scope all across the territory," Harvey said.

Elections Yukon
Elections Yukon

Melanie Bennett, a member of the board's Interim Governance Committee and the director of the Yukon First Nations Education Directorate, said the "collaboration" between the Department of Education, the chief's committee and the IGC will be the way the board will continue to work, Bennett said.

"It really sets the platform of [having] to sit and talk with each other and agree upon moving forward on whatever it is," she said.

'This year is all about transition'

Part of the IGC's role, Bennett said, will be to train the new trustees to get them prepared for their roles.

Trustees will be learning in the next weeks about personnel policy and how to assist Melissa Flynn, the board's interim executive director, with school operations.

The training will also include what elements of the Indigenous worldview should be reflected in how the new board operates.

Bennett said the onboarding process is going to be important as the trustees and the schools writ large are still undergoing major change.

"This year is all about … transitioning the schools from the public operation," she said.

Bennett said she's not sure how long the onboarding process will last, but that it has to be "relatively quick."

After that, Bennett said she doesn't expect the IGC to immediately dissolve.

They could help the new trustees with important work, like budget negotiations for the upcoming school year.

"They're such a dedicated group of individuals [that] I don't foresee that they're going to go, 'OK we're done — wash my hands and walk away,'" Bennett said.

"We all want to see the success of the school board."

Election of key committee members not a conflict of interest

IGC members Erin Pauls and Jocelyn Joe-Strack were elected to two of the five trustee positions this week.

Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation is also a member of the Chiefs Committee on Education and, as of Monday night, also a trustee-elect.

The Education Act says those involved with a school in some capacity, for example as a principal or school council member, are unable to run as trustees without resigning their original positions.

There wasn't any appetite to change the Education Act to exclude those on committees like the IGC from running, Harvey said.

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC

Elections Yukon did add a couple more criteria for who could run, Harvey explained, including knowledge of at least one Indigenous language and membership in a Yukon First Nation, but that otherwise no parent of a child at the board's schools are ineligible to run.

Bennett said it's a good thing that IGC members ended up on the board.

"The chiefs said … [the IGC members] are the people that are well-versed in education," she said. "So it's even greater that they've put their name forward ... because it's been a tremendous amount of work."

Bennett said there will be a ceremony after the board's training where members of the Interim Governance Committee will pass the feather to the new trustees.

More schools consider joining new board

There are three ways for another Yukon school to join the new board: by school council resolution, a petition or ministerial decision.

Elections Yukon hasn't received any formal applications from other schools to join the new board, Harvey said, but they are getting ready just in case.

Leslie Amminson/CBC
Leslie Amminson/CBC

June is the earliest that a school could hold a referendum vote, Harvey said, because the board needs to be in place for at least a year.

Harvey said any vote for a school's admission to the board wouldn't change which trustees are on the board. They will serve three-year terms.