On March 31, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (TH) held a feast to remember the mixed-heritage children who came to Dawson City to live at St. Paul’s Hostel and attend Dawson Public School — the only public school in the territory they were allowed to attend between 1920 and 1952.
While the stories from the hostel don’t seem quite as bad as those emanating from actual residential schools, there was still a real mismatch between the children’s home cultures and the culture of the school.
With that in mind, it’s something of a triumph that Robert Service School (RSS) and the TH are at the forefront of efforts to balance and harmonize cultures.
Ann Moore, the school principal, and Ashley Doiron, the TH education manager, reflect on the changes and advances over the last decade.
“I’ve been very impressed with the opportunity to work with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in,” Moore says. “Especially with the curriculum side of things.”
Years earlier TH began holding a series of cultural camps, beginning with First Hunt and then adding First Fish, and Moose Camp.
Initially these experiences were just field trips that took students out on the land, but over the last two years they have been refined and now count as high school credit for Grades 10, 11 and 12.
“We have put curriculum objectives together and instructional strategies and assessment practices,” Moore says. “We have students who have already received high school credit for some of those camps.”
Doiron adds that instruction at these events is carried out by TH elders and people from the TH community, giving official approval to the transmission of cultural values and practices.
In addition, both women note the amount of work done in the school by members and employees of the First Nation, with cultural inclusion practiced in many areas.
Just over two years ago, the school and the First Nation launched the Outdoor Classroom, called Lenähjin Tr’ëdëk (the Gathering Place) in the Hän language, to allow the land beside the school to be used for lessons best taught beyond four walls.
Doiron notes that cultural inclusion has affected some of the activities that various classes undertake. Visits to the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre occur at all grade levels. Skiing trips to Moosehide, or a field trip to gather local plants for a home economics lesson, are quite normal.
Moore says it is impressive how keen staff members are to take on TH staff as co-teachers in units of study, such as the five-week unit on residential schools in the Grade 10 social studies class.
The school staff is continuing to learn more about how they can assist in the process of cultural inclusion.
“It’s a huge relationship building, community piece that we’re involved in,” Doiron says. “There’s a lot of defining happening (as TH citizens) are becoming more comfortable and understanding what they want out of the school.”
There’s been a lot of good will invested in these changes over the last decade, and both women agree that the effort certainly seems to be bearing fruit.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.