How to teach Indigenous self-government

Self-government doesn’t come without hitches, but Yukon College’s students dream big

Yukon College

Yukon College

Cynthia James worked as an education support worker for Carcross Tagish First Nation and Ta’an Kwach’an Council, just south of Whitehorse, from 2006 to 2012. But she recently added a new badge of honour to her accomplishments, graduating from Yukon College’s First Nations governance and public administration program. “There hasn’t been, in the past, education relevant to governance, because [it’s] still new,” says James, 34.

For almost 150 years, First Nations have been governed by the federal Indian Act of 1867. As more and more First Nations challenged old treaties and negotiated new land-claim agreements, it gave rise to more autonomy in the form of self-governance agreements.

There are now 22 self-government agreements, and, as of April, there were 90 more in negotiation, according to the federal Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Of 14 First Nations in the Yukon, 11 are self-governed, which means they develop their own laws and have greater control over their own lands and resources. “Everything is a learning process in building of a government,” says James.

Yukon College’s certificate program takes a community approach. “We have the 14 First Nations sitting at the table and writing the courses with us, which doesn’t usually happen. Usually it’s an academic in an office creating the curriculum,” says Tosh Southwick, director of First Nation Initiatives at the college.

First Nations governments differ from their colonial counterparts, in that they are built on traditional values such as respect for the land and consensus building.

Classroom discussions often cover language and cultural preservation and revitalization, or traditional laws such as citizenship or clans, says Southwick. “You get this course that is incredibly relevant and reflective of many different points of view. The dialogue happening in the classroom is just phenomenal.”

The program also brings in elders, respected members of the First Nations community, to share their stories.

Demand has been so steady for the part-time certificate program—it only takes 15 to 18 students each year, but they come from as far away as northern B.C. and the Northwest Territories (including small towns like Inuvik, Whatì, and Fort Liard)—that the college will offer a three-year bachelor of policy studies in indigenous governance beginning in 2017, and is adding a one-year post-graduate certificate in climate change and public policy.

Shadelle Chambers, 35, an elected councillor of the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation, says what began as a pilot project between her community and Yukon College in 2008 is now a speciality very much on the radar.

“It’s important to have educated and knowledgeable leaders and decision makers within our Nations.”

For James, the highlight was sitting in class with people who shared the same passion. “It was really easy to dream about what more we could be doing.”


How to teach Indigenous self-government

  1. Hopefully,

    Somewhere in the curriculum of “self government” there is a portion of training on how to make your own money, build your own economy, and become self-sustaining.

    All the courses in the world won’t let you control your own desitiny if someone else is relied upon to pay your bills. (See Chief Louise of the Osoyooos band if you want to know how it’s done)

    • If only Europeans had learned those things – maybe they wouldn’t have come here and stolen everything.

      • ACtually Tresus,

        I’ve provided Links to the Treaties already. If you had bothered to inform yourself, you would realize that nothing was stolen.

        It’s not our fault that our ancestors were better negotiators.

        That being said, I do agree that First Nations have never been treated fairly in Canada.

        • Sure you have, James.
          Remind me again, which treaties ceded British Columbia to Canada?

          • Forget the deflection Tresus……

            You know what I wrote is true.

            but as we know…when Facts go against the narrative you have in your own closed mind…you just ignore them.

          • “The deflection”

            You mean like claiming all of Canada was legitimately transferred from First Nations by treaties then mumbling about “facts” and “narrative” when asked to tell us which treaties ceded the territory in BC?

            Of course like most of your claims that one is complete BS. The majority of BC has never been ceded by treaty.

          • Tresus,

            YOU are the one who wrote about ALL OF CANADA was legitimately transferred.

            I wrote:
            “I’ve provided Links to the Treaties already. If you had bothered to inform yourself, you would realize that nothing was stolen. ”

            So once again, you cannot refute what I have written, so you insert your own comment and argue with yourself.

            As suspected, you are a masturdebator. You are arguing with yourself.

            but hey…if it leaves you happy, at least you won’t be bothering anyone else.

        • Right. Cuz when you say, “nothing was stolen” you mean, ‘except for the parts that were stolen’.
          Makes sense.
          Not to mention, the comment you objected to referred to ‘Europeans’, and we haven’t even touched on the rest of the three continents they annexed.
          But nothing was stolen there either. Except for the parts that were stolen.

          • And once again, Tresus……

            You are masturdebating again. Go back and reread what I have written; and then remove the points you THINK i have written, but are actually contrived in your own confused mind.

            Now sit back and feel the fool that you are.

            (Anyone else want to explain it to him?)

          • Sure jameshalifax, let’s do that:

            Me: If only Europeans had learned those things – maybe they wouldn’t have come here and stolen everything.

            James: If you had bothered to inform yourself, you would realize that nothing was stolen.

            Followed by the part were we learn that the vast majority of British Columbia was annexed by Europeans without consent of the people who it belonged to.

            The End

            Man, shows about how absolutely pig-ignorant jameshalifax is, sure are boring.

          • Tresus,

            Are you REALLY that obtuse and stupid, or are you just trying to impress the newbies?

            Again..you continually make points and attribute them to me, when in fact, they are points that YOU have brought up.

            If you want to argue with yourself, be my guest, but at least make sure that one half of you arguing with the other half of you has his/his facts straight.

            still no takers for anyone who wants to help Tresus out? I still can’t fix his level of stupid. Someone lend him 30 IQ points; possibly more, at least until he hits the 100 level. Then he may get it.

          • Yes, quoting you verbatim is making things up and attributing them to you.

  2. Self government? Easy! Quit letting our spineless government, giving them money every time they whine. A thought! A job!

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