Mike Smith is a smart man, but people are treating him like an idiot.
They should stop talking and start thinking.
Kwanlin Dun wants to act in the best interests of its citizens. It should not be criticized for doing so.
Child and family services seized one of the First Nations’ newborns from its mother at the hospital, Smith, chief of Kwanlin Dun, told delegates attending the Council of Yukon First Nations general assembly.
The child never had a chance to bond to its mother, he said.
He had a lot more to say, but the nuance has been lost. The focus immediately shifted to defence mode. Society assumed the worst of the mother and leapt to the child’s defence.
The fate of children in the community is often discussed, but rarely dealt with to anyone’s satisfaction.
Few are ambivalent on this issue. Too often in our society, children are hurt or permanently scarred. And sometimes they die.
Which is why many smart people in the community—educators, police, firefighters, lawyers, social workers, doctors, nurses—think officials should intervene more often to remove children from their parents. Especially aboriginal children.
And now people will be calling such people racists. And, frankly, that’s not helping children either.
Let’s abandon the labels for a minute, because those advocating state intervention are often normal, responsible people possessed of an even mix of compassion and hard-heartedness. And they are often this way because they catch disturbing glimpses of people’s lives that most of us are spared.
They are worried about the fate of the children they meet, whom they believe are neglected and in danger. They want to act, immediately, but they work in a system that is often ponderous and slow.
They are people who fear for children. And society should want people in the system who feel that way.
But nothing divides society faster than issues about family, especially when you’re talking about the state seizing aboriginal children in the post-residential-school era.
Those professionals who want the state to intervene and seize children are rarely aboriginal.
Most believe aboriginal leaders don’t do enough to protect their child citizens.
Which brings us back to Chief Mike Smith, and the point which has been lost amid all society’s passionate bluster.
Smith didn’t say the child should not be removed from the mother.
Smith is simply challenging the way the seizure was executed by the Yukon’s child and family services branch.
The government stepped in and took the child into custody without discussing it with the Kwanlin Dun.
And so, Smith, a lawyer, is taking the Yukon to court to determine whether the territory must consult with the aboriginal government’s officials before taking such action.
The Yukon is insisting the Kwanlin Dun has no standing in the case, cannot enter evidence or make arguments, said Smith.
If so, that’s remarkable. And very troubling.
Self-governing First Nations, like Kwanlin Dun, must be consulted in child-custody cases involving its citizens.
The reason is simple.
It demonstrates a society taking an active interest in the fate of its children. The Kwanlin Dun is publicly demanding to be included in the process of protecting its citizens.
Everybody wants the same thing.
The problem, if there is one, is a lack of faith in the aboriginal government.
But its participation is absolutely necessary if children are to be protected in the long term.
Its interest in the fate of its most vulnerable citizens should be encouraged, not dismissed. The Kwanlin Dun should be involved in child-custody cases.
And when the Yukon government ignores Smith’s demand , it places children at risk. (Richard Mostyn)