Leaders of the Tłı̨chǫ Government say a new school is needed for Behchokǫ̀, as Edzo’s Chief Jimmy Bruneau School is nearly half a century old.
The Tłı̨chǫ Chiefs Executive Council toured the school with education minister RJ Simpson on Tuesday. A Tłı̨chǫ Government news release stated the tour was called so the need could be demonstrated for a new facility in Behchokǫ̀.
The school has served its purpose, said Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels. He said the community needs a new school, not another retrofit, to best serve the community and meet Bruneau’s original vision.
“It’s very much needed,” said Daniels. “The population’s getting bigger – more kids – and we need a bigger, newer facility that is really up to date.”
Bruneau himself, reportedly in his 90s at the time, opened the current school in 1972 – a year after Tłı̨chǫ leaders signed an agreement with deputy commissioner John Parker for the establishment of a “school and a hostel.” According to reporting by The Native Press, the school cost the territorial government $52.8 million to build. At the time, the school could only take students up to Grade 8 level and, in its first year, took in around 100 students according to the report.
Chief Jimmy Bruneau, left, with James Rabesca interpreting and Jean Chrétien in the background. Native Press/NWT Archives
The January 1972 official opening of the school had southern politicians pay a visit – including Jean Chrétien, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development at the time.
The Native Press stated the school’s namesake had planned the school to be the first where Tłı̨chǫ people could control and operate their own education. The Native Press at the time said social studies and physical education were “replaced with cultural teachings whereby students participate in hunting, trapping, and fishing … taught by local hunters and trappers.”
Bruneau recognized the need for young people to be educated while “still realizing who we are,” Daniels said.
“He wanted his people running it. He wanted his people teaching his people, their children, and for everything we’ve been taught traditionally and culturally to be carried forward to the youth and children,” he said.
The Tłı̨chǫ Chiefs Executive Council now states it is looking forward to discussing the need for a new school with the community, as well as the NWT premier and cabinet.
The council said in a statement “a new school is developed in a way that fulfills the vision of Chief Jimmy Bruneau, rooted in Tłı̨chǫ culture, language, and way of life, and integrated into the social fabric of the community of Behchokǫ̀.”
A spokesperson for the NWT government’s cabinet told Cabin Radio the education minister may be in a position to speak on the issue following further talks with the Tłı̨chǫ Government.
A photo posted to Chief Jimmy Bruneau School’s Facebook page shows the school cafeteria.