June 16, 2024

The Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation (TH) and the City of Dawson in the Yukon have partnered to expand on the community’s nutrition program.

Run by TH’s education department, the nutrition program has been up and running for the past four years. The program provides all students at the Robert Service School with hot breakfasts and lunches every day. 

Until now, the program has been operating out of the TH Community Hall’s kitchen.

“It’s quite small,” said Jody Beaumont, the director of education with the First Nation.

“When you think about the importance, and centrality of food in the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin culture, our program was one of many operating out of that kitchen.”

Beaumont told CBC News there are approximately 230 kids attending the Robert Service School.

“We have for the past couple of years been providing two meals a day for all of those kids. We’re putting out about 1,500 meals a week.”

A smiling woman in a toque.
The kitchen at the First Nation’s community hall is ‘quite small,’ said Jody Beaumont, director of education with the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation. (Submitted by Jody Beaumont)

Beaumont said there were a few potential locations where the program could be moved to, but the commercial kitchen at the town’s recreation centre was chosen. So now, thanks to the partnership with the municipality, the nutrition program will operate from there.

“[Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin] reached out to rent the facilities,” said David Henderson, the town’s chief administrative officer.

“The facilities are usually put out to tender and rented commercially to provide hot meals to rink users, but this was a unique situation from Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin which we tried to partner with wherever possible — because it is their traditional territory and lands.”

Henderson said that the proposal was discussed during a town council meeting and it was a unanimous decision to lease the commercial kitchen to the nutrition program until Aug. 31, 2024. 

But as Henderson explained to CBC News, some community members weren’t happy that the decision means the rink will no longer have a commercial concession for rink users.

A concession at a public building is seen, with a window looking into the kitchen.
The food concession at the recreation centre. (Jody Beaumont)

“The municipality did receive two letters on the issue,” he said.

“One or two people during the public question period expressed their disagreement with the rental to the nutrition  program,” he said.  

Dawson resident Rod Dewell declined an interview with CBC News but wrote in an email that parents and kids of the minor hockey and skating programs would be hardest hit.

He said parents often pick their kids up from school, take them to the rink, and feed them there. 

Dewell also said that most of the town eats at the rink’s concession during the winter months as many of the restaurants are closed. 

Dewell called council’s decision to lease the arena’s kitchen to the nutrition program “short sighted,” ‘”naive” and “lazy.”

Beaumont said she understands the frustration some rec centre users may be feeling, however she says the temporary service change will benefit the whole community.

“We really want to emphasize the importance of every kid in our school having breakfast, and lunch — everyday,” she said.

“And what that is bringing to the community, it’s an equalizer in education. It’s foundational. Every kid should go to school and have that right to do so with proper nutrition.”

The city says in place of the commercial concession stand, it will install a vending machine at the recreation centre with snacks. It also says it will be looking to hire a food provider for certain weekends when there are events scheduled. 

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