Council of Yukon First Nations takes over Native Language Centre

The Yukon government is handing responsibility for the Yukon Native Language Centre to the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Grand Chief Peter Johnston pledges big changes and more community presence

'We want to see open doors for anybody that wants to learn a language,' says Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Yukon government is handing responsibility for its Indigenous language centre to the Council of Yukon First Nations, and CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston is pledging some profound changes.

The Yukon Native Language Centre trains and certifies teachers of Yukon First Nations languages and provides preservation, documentation and curriculum development services. 

According to the Yukon government, the Council requested the transfer of full control over the centre, which has been their joint responsibility for more than 30 years.

The council will continue to receive $450,000 annually from the territorial government for the operation of the centre.

Major changes proposed

Five Yukon government employees will lose their jobs as a result of the transfer.

The former staff members will be offered different jobs within the department of education or somewhere else within the government of Yukon.

The Council of Yukon First Nations plans to fill the five positions soon.

Johnston said, a newly reimagined language centre will place less emphasis on training government employees and more on community members.

It would also focus on providing types of lessons, for students at different levels of language study.

"Within our societies there have been many people who have been affected by residential school that may not need a full language program to get back to fluency, or there may be younger generations that want the full inclusion," he said. 
The centre has been the joint responsibility of the Council of Yukon First Nations and the Government of Yukon for more than 30 years. (Claudiane Samson-Radio-Canada)

Ultimately, he said, the goal is to increase fluency across the territory. But, he acknowledged it's still early days and specific plans are still being determined.   

"We're on first base, hitting for home," he said. "We've never been on base before."

Part of larger shift

Johnston said the transfer of the language centre could be the beginning of a larger change as well.

Yukon First Nations with signed land claims retain the right to draw down responsibility for many federally-funded programs.

"We are working and walking down that path as we speak in regards to many different things," he said. "Not only with language, but with education, health, justice and other different areas of priority."

Study material at the Yukon Native Language Centre. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

'Essential step' to reconciliation

Yukon's education minister, Tracy-Anne McPhee, called language revitalization an "essential step" toward reconciliation.

But Johnson said, the transfer is a long time coming. 

The first iteration of the Yukon Native Language Centre opened in 1977. It became a training and research facility in 1985.

"Unfortunately, it's taken 30 plus years to get to this reality," said Johnston. "But at the end of the day, we're now given that full opportunity to put language in its rightful place."

With files from Philippe Morin