BY C.J. PETTIGREW
The history of the Native Language Programs in Yukon schools spans more than fifteen years. In that time - there has been significant progress in the pioneering of a unique oral language curriculum and an accredited native language instructor training program. The success of the school programs is due in part to the support they have received from the Yukon Government and the Council of Yukon Indians. Unfortunately, this support has not been extended to the women who work as instructors in these programs. For fifteen years they have struggled for pay, benefits, a pension plan and some job security, without significant results.
As early as 1973, a few native language courses existed in one or two classrooms. They were instructed by native elders and non-native volunteer teachers who were not paid for their work. There was no standard curriculum, no instructional materials, and no instructor training available. Today there are twelve Native Language Programs in the rural schools of the Yukon and three in the city of Whitehorse, with a total enrolment of almost 800 students. Yet in the midst of all this improvement and growth, the status and pay of the native language instructors has changed very little.
In 1977 the Council for Yukon Indians and the Government of Yukon established the Yukon Native Language Project (Y.N.L.P.), jointly sponsored and funded by the two agencies. Under the direction of John Ritter, the focus of the project was to develop curriculum, instructor training, and support for the native language courses that were springing up as local programs in the schools. By the summer of 1980, the Y.N.L.P. had produced the curriculum guide, Teaching Yukon Native Languages, and the first native language instructors were taking periodic training to improve their knowledge of the basics of second-language teaching, and to learn how to use the curriculum guide.