Lauren Wallingham and her daughter Leah stroll on a wooded path from their house in Whitehorse to Takhini Elementary Faculty, the place Leah is starting Grade 2.

Leah says she’s nervous to fulfill her new trainer — however one thing else is new on the faculty this 12 months, as effectively.

Eight colleges within the Yukon, together with Leah’s, have formally joined the First Nation Faculty Board — the primary of its sort in Canada — after a historic referendum vote final January. Now in its inaugural faculty 12 months, the aim of the board is to provide Indigenous folks extra say round training and convey cultural information into the classroom.

College students of any background can attend. As with all Yukon elementary colleges, the First Nation Faculty Board colleges will proceed to comply with British Columbia’s curriculum — however with a further goal to return to land-based, conventional studying that pulls from group knowledge-holders and elders. In doing so, the aim is to empower and affirm a way of id within the college students.

“I am hopeful,” Wallingham advised The Present host Matt Galloway of the brand new modifications. “I hope that she’ll be exterior loads. Studying about this place we dwell in, the surroundings and the traditions that Indigenous folks have.”

A woman and her two daughters sit on a slide in a school playground, looking to the camera. She is holding both girls on her lap.
Lauren Wallingham and her daughters Rae, left, and Leah, proper. Leah is beginning Grade 2 at Takhini Elementary Faculty, one in every of eight colleges within the Yukon that joined the First Nation Faculty Board. (Lauren Wallingham)

‘The soldiers we did not see’

It is an expertise many Indigenous folks have not had within the Canadian public faculty system — and that is one thing Melanie Bennett, government director of the Yukon First Nation Schooling Directorate and member of the Tr’ondёk Hwёch’in First Nation, mentioned she hopes to see change.

Arguments for the institution of a First Nation-led faculty board have been largely fuelled by a 2019 report from the auditor normal of Canada, which highlighted a deficiency in help for Indigenous and rural college students within the territory.

Bennett, who was a main participant in bringing the varsity board to fruition, mentioned she has excessive hopes for what it will imply for Indigenous college students.

“I feel the most important factor is confidence and being OK figuring out who you’re,” Bennett mentioned of the brand new program.

She describes her grandmother secretly instructing her classmates Indigenous language after faculty.

“She taught us stitching however she closed the door and taught us the best way to converse the language on the similar time. These are the soldiers we did not see.”

Takhini Elementary Faculty is pictured in April, 2021. The Whitehorse faculty is one in every of eight that joined the First Nation Faculty Board. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The subsequent step towards reconciliation

The First Nation Faculty Board is the following step towards reconciliation, mentioned Melissa Flynn, the interim director. Flynn notes the up to date faculty system in Canada strays from the community- and family-based training that’s conventional to Indigenous studying.

“We had our personal methods of figuring out and being. How we taught kids and the way they discovered from multigenerational folks of their lives,” mentioned Flynn.

The expertise of Indigenous folks with training in Canada stays fraught as survivors proceed to grapple with the invention of unmarked graves on former residential faculty websites throughout the nation. In July, Pope Francis referred to as what occurred to Indigenous folks at residential colleges “genocide” — a perception lengthy held by survivors.

“I feel fact and reconciliation is a duty and a problem for everyone who lives in Canada,” Flynn mentioned.

“So that is actually thrilling to convey folks collectively. It is not a ‘them’ and ‘us’ situation anymore. Reconciliation to me means everybody shifting collectively who lives on a conventional territory.”

A woman walks along a snowy trail, with a dog and people behind her. She is smiling and taking a selfie.
The brand new faculty board is a ‘actually thrilling’ alternative ‘to convey folks collectively’ in reconciliation efforts, says Melissa Flynn, the board’s interim director. (Melissa Flynn)

Bennett mentioned she remembers college students recognizing pictures of historic figures like Sir John A. Macdonald, however not Indigenous ones like Francis Pegahmagabow, a First Nations soldier and politician. She attributes this to Westernized training, which frequently erases Indigenous heritage from its pages.

Establishing the First Nation Faculty Board was a technique of communication, mentioned Flynn. Members of the Yukon First Nations Schooling Directorate reached out to Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents to listen to from them.

“This subsequent step in reconciliation in our territory is admittedly necessary,” Flynn mentioned.

A collaborative effort

At Takhini Elementary Faculty, music and French trainer Dorothy Williams weaves by way of her classroom as an ensemble of kids holding varied percussion devices sits cross-legged on the ground. Because the jangle and thump of cheerful music ends in a decrescendo, the scholars break into applause.

A woman stands in a classroom, with xylophones arranged on the floor.
Dorothy Williams, who teaches music and French at Takhini Elementary, hopes to construct sturdy connections with group members and elders. (Dorothy Williams)


Williams is not Indigenous, and has been tasked with incorporating Indigenous music into her class. Finally, she hopes to type a daily First Nations drumming group in her class led by a group member. She mentioned she additionally needs to discover conventional Indigenous songs in her classes — however that shall be a collaborative course of.

“Most First Nations songs I can’t sing. I haven’t got permission to. So for me to have connections with group members and elders for music is extraordinarily necessary.”

The First Nation Faculty Board will assist facilitate these connections, Williams defined.

“We have challenged the academics to consider how to connect with group and the way to connect with land wherever they’re at of their lecture rooms and their classroom actions,” mentioned Flynn.

This contains discipline journeys, finding out Indigenous literature, and bringing knowledge-holders and elders into the classroom. As for non-Indigenous Yukoners, Flynn says the faculties shall be inclusive of all cultures.

“I hope shifting ahead, the inclusion mannequin of recognizing and celebrating all Yukon college students will come by way of in what we’re delivering,” she mentioned.

And because the faculty 12 months will get underway, group eyes are on the First Nation Faculty Board to look at its degree of success. Groups from the eight colleges have been introduced collectively earlier than the varsity 12 months started to debate plans and expectations for the brand new framework.

“I feel there is a degree of pleasure. I feel there is a degree of concern of the unknown,” Flynn mentioned of the academics and employees.

Making ‘good errors’

Bennett displays on her grandmother instructing her the best way to bead.

“I keep in mind my very first piece. It was just a little orange necklace. I needed to take it aside, I feel six or seven instances as a result of I made a mistake, and my grandmother would say, ‘good mistake’ … I discovered the best way to make good errors.”

A woman sits on a sofa with a child on her lap. There is a cushion made to resemble a camp fire on the table in front of her.
Bennett, government director of the Yukon First Nation Schooling Directorate, is pictured along with her grandchild. Bennett remembers her personal grandmother instructing her to bead as a baby, and hopes that mentality for studying will carry over within the new faculty board. (Submitted by Melanie Bennett)

That is the mentality Bennett mentioned she hopes shall be adopted in lecture rooms. Trying towards the long run, she mentioned her largest hope is that these colleges will assist form sturdy group members.

“What actually issues is you could get up and say ‘I’m’ — and identify the place you are from,” Bennet mentioned.

Lauren Wallingham has an analogous hope for her daughter, Leah.

“It’ll be their regular, which I am actually enthusiastic about.”

Produced by Ben Jamieson and Elizabeth Hoath.