Special to the News
The first shovelfuls of dirt have been overturned where the Yukon’s first Indigenous-run women and children’s shelter will be.
A groundbreaking ceremony took place at the Whistle Bend property on May 17.
When the shelter is complete in fall 2024, it will house Yukon First Nations women and children who are fleeing abuse, experiencing homelessness and dealing with mental health or addictions issues.
The centre was spearheaded by the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and will be the organization’s first major capital asset.
The single-storey, wood-framed building will contain 15 apartments and 32 beds. To reflect First Nations values, the design prioritizes gathering spaces and natural light. There will be common dining areas, a wet workshop and a cultural room. The outdoor grounds will include play areas and picnic space.
The apartments are divided into low- and high-barrier housing units to “safely meet the needs of families and women who require more supports,” according to CYFN. Women will be able to access the five-bed low-barrier wing while intoxicated.
The property was transferred to the Council of Yukon First Nations for $1 by the Yukon government earlier this year. It’s located on Eldorado Drive in Whistle Bend, and the building will span 15,069 square feet with a large grounds for outdoor gathering.
The groundbreaking ceremony included a site blessing. A procession of drummers were led by elders, who spread the ashes from a sacred fire along the site’s perimeter “to ensure that the site is taken care of in a good way, and is protected for all the workers and residents and clients,” said Shadelle Chambers, CYFN’s executive director.
Elder Linda Harvey then shared songs and stories in celebration of the construction start.
Opening remarks were given by CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston, Ta’an Kwäch’än Chief Amanda Leas, Kwanlin Dün Chief Sean Smith, Yukon MP Brendan Hanley and Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee.
Johnston noted that the project has come to fruition with many partners. It’s funded by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Indigenous Shelter and Transitional Housing Initiative. It’s additionally funded by Indigenous Services Canada, the Yukon Housing Corporation and the federal, territorial and municipal governments.
The construction contract was awarded to a joint venture between Ketza Construction Corporation and Walker Home Construction.
Johnston said the many partnerships are reflective of the strong community required to keep the community safe.
“It will take many people, including all of us here in the room, including the men that are here today, to make pivotal changes,” Johnston said.
“The more that we can lead by example, and go back to men being role models in our community for younger men, [it will] lead to the place … where there’ll be no violence in our communities.”
Johnston touched upon the issues of alcohol and addiction as contributors to violence.
“At the end of the day, it’s not a government problem … it’s not a CYFN problem,” he said. “We’re here to help support, but it’s something that we, as a community, need to get a grasp on.”
Chief Amanda Leas reiterated the importance of change propelled by community.
“As Indigenous people, we have an inherent responsibility to take care of our land and to take care of our people,” Leas said. “And this is a great step forward today.”
Johnston took the first shovelful of dirt from the construction site alongside Les Walker, owner of Walker Home Construction, and Peter Densmore of Ketza Construction, to signal the project’s beginning.
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