The new school will offer increased language and cultural programming
APTN News: A century-long wait for a school is finally over for the Kluane First Nation.
On May 31, community members, territorial officials and students gathered to celebrate the new construction of Kêts’ádań Kų. The school’s name translates to “house of learning” in Southern Tutchone. “It’s a huge ambition,” said Kluane Chief Bob Dickson. “I think we’re getting closer to the day that we can open the doors and start integrating our language and culture into the mainstream curriculum for our kids.”
Kluane, located in Burwash Landing, a community of around 70 people 275 km northeast of Whitehorse, has been petitioning for a school since the early 1900s.
Community member Mary Jane Johnson, whose grandfather signed a petition for a school in 1917, said it’s taken five generations for it to come to fruitarian. “From my grandfather, my mother, my time, my children, my grandchildren, that’s how long it took to get a school here,” she said.
Currently, the small handful of students in the community of Burwash Landing are bussed 15 km to the Kluane Lake School in Destruction Bay. According to government data, as of February 2023, 14 students were enrolled at the school.
According to a previous report by APTN News, the school was intended for grades kindergarten to Grade 7 and has three rooms with additional facilities for a gym, library, and a stage for performing arts.
Dickson said at the time the school was constructed in the 1950s and was costing a considerable amount to keep it running. With the school’s limited resources and programming, many families have since left the area so their children can attend high school in other communities.
Unhappy with the school’s lack of First Nation’s curriculum, Johnson opted instead to homeschool her children. “I said ‘I’m not taking my kids to school in Destruction Bay where we do not even have our language or culture,’” she said.
She noted the community is thrilled the new school will be better able to accommodate its children. “Everybody has an inner smile here today. Everybody’s happy,” she said.
House of Learning
Kêts’ádań Kų will include learning spaces connected to the land, classes for elementary, junior and high school and will have dedicated classrooms for science, English and math. The maximum capacity for the new building will be 40 students.
Dickson suspects the school’s new and improved design will result in more families enrolling their children there. He noted the new school will focus on language and cultural instruction and will be part of the Yukon First Nation School Board for the 2023-24 school year.
“We need to have a school for our culture and our language in the schools today so that we can continue our way of life for our people,” he said. “Our hope is the kids are going to learn our language, the culture, and also they’re going to help the rest of the community learn also, because I think it’s a multigenerational connection.”
Kêts’ádań Kų is expected to be in operation in 2026. According to a territorial government release, an estimated budget of $20-28 million was allocated or the school, though its final value will not be determined until the procurement phase concludes.
Johnson said the school will ultimately help keep Kluane First Nation’s children in the community where they’ll learn best. “My granddaughter said ‘I’m going to be the first one to graduate from that school.’”