North

Yukon teachers meet Indigenous elders at healing camp

Yukon is developing a new curriculum which places more emphasis on Indigenous culture. This week teachers met with Indigenous elders outside Whitehorse at a healing camp to discuss the idea.

New curriculum emphasizes Indigenous 'ways of knowing,' says education department

Teachers hold hands at Jackson Lake Healing Camp as Teslin Tlingit elder Sam Johnston offers a word of thanks before a prayer. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Yukon teachers got a chance to meet Indigenous elders this week at the Jackson Lake Healing Camp outside Whitehorse. 

The Yukon Department of Education has been trying to integrate Indigenous cultures into the territory's classrooms.

It's a welcome idea said Dorothy Smith, a Kaska elder from Ross River, who was helping to prepare salmon and bannock between answering questions.

"It's about teaching our culture, teaching some of our ways to some of the new teachers that are coming on," she said.

David Johnny Sr. is an elder with the White River First Nation. He was cutting salmon and showing how incisions are made to prepare fish for smoking and drying. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

New curriculum design in Yukon

Betty Burns is the education department's primary curriculum consultant for kindergarten to Grade 3. 

She says the territory is continuing to work on new curriculum.

"We're here introducing the whole idea of First Nations ways of knowing and doing as an essential part of the curriculum redesign," she said. 

Marion Primozic, a member of the Champagne Aishihik First Nation, guided teachers on a walk talking about local plants. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

'I think we're getting there' says elder 

David Johnny Sr., an elder with the White River First Nation, was cutting salmon and showing how incisions are made to prepare fish for smoking and drying. 

He also showed teachers a fishnet made of willow bark — something he learned how to make from his grandfather.  

Johnny calls the camp a sign of progress and reconciliation. He says local history and culture wasn't taught when he was a student.  

We were learning about the Romans and Napoleon running around in Europe and all that stuff — we never learned about ourselves. - David Johnny Sr, elder with the White River First Nation

"I think we're getting there," he said. 

"That was a problem before the First Nations started adding their curriculum to the schools. We were learning about the Romans and Napoleon running around in Europe and all that stuff — we never learned about ourselves."

He hopes adding more Indigenous content will keep more young people enrolled in school.

The Jackson Lake Healing Camp is operated by the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and is outside of Whitehorse. (Philippe Morin/CBC)
 

Traditional teas and a local plant walk

Marion Primozic, a member of the Champagne Aishihik First Nations, helped guide teachers on a walk. She discussed the traditional use of plants such as balsam fir, which she used to make tea with rosehip, and what she called "caribou weed."

She hopes schools will do more to promote hands-on learning and incorporate Indigenous culture. ​

"A lot of our First Nations people are losing this and our kids aren't learning it," she said. 

Salmon sizzling over a campfire. The salmon was from a local grocery store because of restrictions on Chinook fishery. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Integration of subjects and learning outdoors 

The Yukon First Nations New Teacher Orientation program was made available this year to all new teachers and administrators.

Some at the workshop are new to Yukon. Others have years of experience already. 

Sarah Aasman has more than a decade of experience working as a substitute teacher, but attended the workshop because she's starting as a full-time contracted teacher in Grade 2 at Christ the King Elementary in Whitehorse.

"I like how [the new curriculum] is allowing us to be more project-based and experiential," she said. "There's integration between the subjects rather than having the subjects be separate. We can mix the science and First Nations [content] and math and do more integrative projects."