Violet Gatensby created a commemorative piece of art on this chunk of concrete that was part of the steps of the Chooutla Residential School.

Pathways: Culturally rich training for early childhood educators

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nation Education Directorate (YFNED) are partnering to offer a First Nations-designed and delivered training program to early childhood educators throughout the territory.

YFNED worked with the Martin Family Initiative on the design and delivery of the Understanding the Early Years course.

With funding support from Canada, the Yukon government has entered into a three-year agreement with YFNED to roll out this course to early childhood educators.

Clara Northcott is the Director of Early Learning and Child Care with the Yukon government.

She says this agreement provides more stability and helps to build a relationship of trust and partnership between the Yukon government and YFNED.

“I think it shows our commitment to reconciliation, not just talking about it, but putting our money where our mouth is,” says Clara. “This is not just one and done. This is an important relationship that we want to foster.”

Melanie Bennett is the Executive Director of YFNED. She says the partnership with the Yukon government is growing. “It can be slow. Sometimes we have to sit across the table and hold them accountable, and they have to hold us accountable too. It's a relationship.”

First Nation-led training

The training is culturally rich and was developed with input from Elders and Knowledge Keepers. It will support culturally competent and inclusive early childhood educators who will have an understanding of Yukon First Nations.

Yukoners who complete the course will receive a level one certificate to practice as an early childhood educator. The priority is rural communities where people may not have access to as many professional development opportunities. “This training creates another pathway to becoming a level one educator,” says Clara.

The Early Years program will help with staffing challenges that communities may be facing. It also provides opportunities for early childhood educators to advance their skills and increase their wage, as certification brings a higher salary.

Others are benefiting from the YFNED training as well.

Clara says Yukon government staff attended reconciliation and cultural training, and YFNED has also trained the owners and operators of early learning programs.

“We want reconciliation and culturally rich programming to permeate through our organization and the early learning and child care programs that we fund,” says Clara.

3 people welcoming baby to the community
Yukon First Nation Education Directorate

Importance of the early years

Clara says the first five years are the most important years in a child’s life. Experiences shape how the brain develops, and 90% of a child’s brain develops by age five.

She says, “children who are cared for by early childhood educators who are culturally competent are more likely to feel accepted and develop a positive view of themselves and their families.”

Several years ago, Clara heard Senator Murray Sinclair speak about how vitally important it is for children to know where they come from and where they are going.

She says partnerships like these support this work.

“If we are really honouring the Calls to Action, we should be supporting First Nations governments and people to lead, design and develop that work.”

YFNED provides wrap-around supports for children and families

Established in 2019, YFNED delivers wrap-around services through nutrition programs, education advocates, mobile therapeutic supports and early years programs. They're advancing First Nations decision making and authority in education and providing culturally rooted programming to support Indigenous children from age 0-18.

Melanie says their suite of programming was developed in consultation with all Yukon First Nations to identify education gaps in their communities.

Their team of Early Years Visitors provide weekly home visits to support and honour new parents, recognizing them as their child’s first teachers. They also organize group activities such as drop-ins, sewing circles and workshops. Early Years Visitors walk alongside new parents from pregnancy until their child enters school.

The Yukon First Nation Education Directorate has an Early Years Team in Old Crow. They held a fish drying workshop this summer.
Yukon First Nation Education Directorate

Trust and respect

Clara says, “When we respect and trust and keep reconciliation at the centre, it allows for great partnerships”.

Melanie emphasizes the importance of First Nations leading as well. “This training needs to be developed in partnership with the community, then delivered with a respectful Indigenous lens.”

With YFNED delivering this training they are able to ensure that happens.

“As long as we can continue with First Nations leading, that is reconciliation in action,” says Melanie.

Clara is grateful for this partnership. “I hold my hands up to the Early Years Program and YFNED for allowing us to be a part of this training.”

People hand an "Every child matters" flag
Yukon First Nation Education Directorate

Violet Gatensby created a commemorative piece of art on this chunk of concrete that was part of the steps of the Chooutla Residential School.
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