Education is Failing Aboriginal Students

By Chuck Tobin

Yukon aboriginal leaders have called for a detailed examination of the territory’s education system.

Grand Chief Ed Schultz of the Council of Yukon First Nations said Thursday chiefs are concerned over what they believe is an education system that’s continuing to fail aboriginal students.

“Some of the initial data that I have seen strongly indicate there is some inequity in the distribution in the public education system for our citizens,” the chief said in his monthly press conference following this week’s meeting of the CYFN leadership. “And that has to be addressed.

“We want to work within the public education system and make it work but … we have our officials coming to us saying it is not working properly.”

The chiefs, said Schultz, are concerned with the drop-out rates of aboriginal students, and the low grades being registered by others. Schultz said it’s necessary to do the detailed research to identify the heart of the problem.

“While first nation leaders prefer to remain within and fix what they believe ails the mainstream system, what will happen in the end has not been determined,” he said.

“The examination may result in recommended changes to the Education Act, or it might mean rerouting education dollars the Yukon government receives from Ottawa directly to first nations, as provided for in self-government agreements,” he said.
“But that will be determined at a later date.”

The grand chief said the Yukon’s education system is seen as a contributor the number of aboriginal street people and the social conditions they live in. The system, he said, does not affirm and uphold their identity as a first nation member.

Schultz said the school curriculum continues to be largely based on western European culture, which is fine for those of western European descent who are receiving affirmation of their roots.
But if you are of aboriginal descent, there is no such affirmation nor recognition of the significance of aboriginal society, he said.
If a student is of Northern Tutchone descent, or Kaska, or Gwich’in or any of the Yukon first nations, he said, they’re faced with going through school learning more about foreign cultures than their own.
“You begin to subconsciously feel that you are not equal,” he said.

Schultz said the situation is improving from the days when he was in school, when there was nothing said about aboriginal culture.
But the Yukon chiefs are nonetheless concerned and have instructed the central aboriginal organization to immediately begin the detailed examination of the situation.

The grand chief said it’s been suggested to the aboriginal community that such a detailed look into the current system would cost too much, and take too much time. “But for every suicide I see, and for every street kid I see who is ruining their life, I do not think it is going to cost too much.”