You can’t put a positive spin on the collapse of the Children’s Act review.
Sure, Premier Dennis Fentie is trying. But, no matter how you cut it, there’s political fallout in every slice.
On March 16, things looked a lot different.
There was a heartwarming sense of unity on the Children’s Act review front.
“We are very lucky to have had so many people participate and share their experiences and knowledge of the child-welfare system in the Yukon, and in other places, with our project panel members,” said grand chief Andy Carvill in a release a few weeks ago.
“This openness has been very valuable and will be useful in improving the legislation to better serve all Yukon children.”
Sounded great — until First Nations quit the bilateral process.
Last week, officials with the Council of Yukon First Nations abandoned the review, which had moseyed along for two years.
The First Nation representatives were angry about the lack of progress, the territory’s seeming lack of commitment and their exclusion from parts of the process.
“It was our anticipation that we’d be 50-50 partners in addressing the Children’s Act revisions,” said Darren Taylor, a Tr’ondek Hwech’in chief and, until recently, a member of the review committee.
The partnership is eroding, he added.
Nonsense, said Fentie.
“We worked together collectively to go out and dig into this matter in depth and detail,” he said.
There’s clearly a disconnect here.
Fentie would have the public believe that he’s got a good working relationship with First Nations.
But the speed with which co-operation and good nature turned to abandonment says otherwise.
First Nations clearly lack faith in the Fentie government.
And this isn’t good news for the territory.
The Children’s Act outlines how the territory’s governments deal with their most vulnerable citizens.
Seizing children from dangerous homes is a necessary, terrible business.
And, too often, these children are of First Nation descent.
The act is old and needs to be modernized.
It can’t be done without widespread First Nation participation.
Following the collapse of the bilateral review, Fentie put on a brave face, signaling that he’s willing to go it alone.
“The government is going to do what we set out to do,” he said.
Or, perhaps, he has some ringer First Nation waiting in the wings, ready to jump on board the review process — to give it the appearance of credibility.
Neither is acceptable.
The review is too important to ignore. And, because it is so divisive, any government-drafted changes won’t be accepted by First Nations.
Aboriginal governments must be involved.
All of them.
Otherwise, the work is doomed to fail.
And the territory’s children will bear the brunt of that failure. (RM)