The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Yukon governments have inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that offers a way for the two governments to work together on carrying out child and family services for Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizens.
Allison Kormendy, is the director of Ni’ehłyat Nidähjì’ (which translates to our families, our future) at Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in government. Kormendy spoke about the agreement in Dawson City at a signing ceremony on June 13.
In a video posted to Facebook, Kormendy said the purpose of the agreement is to keep Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in children safe and connected to their families, communities and culture.
“It is truly more than just a document. It is a guiding document for on-the-ground workers all the way up to leadership to ensure that we’re supporting and respecting how we move forward as a united front and how we continue to build our relationship,” Kormendy said.
“We appreciate all of the tireless efforts that have gone into this MOU and all of the hard conversations we’ve had to go through to get to this point.”
Kormendy said the deal formalizes an existing working relationship between the two parties.
The governments declined to make the MOU public at this time.
A joint news release between the Yukon and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in governments indicates the MOU has been in the works for two years. During that period, the territorial government introduced a bill to the legislature to reform the Child and Family Services Act.
In the release, Kormendy said the injustices experienced and witnessed by First Nations people and the systemic abuse of children and families “will not be forgotten.” Kormendy indicated there is an “undeniable” need for procedures to be put in place for future generations.
Indigenous people represent 95 per cent of children and youth in out-of-home care in the Yukon while only making up less than 22 per cent of the territory’s population, according to the family and children services’ report for 2020 to 2022.
Family and Children’s Services, commonly referred to as FCS, has reprioritized placing children and youth with their extended families instead of in foster care or group homes.
In the report, while the number of children in out-of-home care has gone up eight per cent from 2017 to 2022, there has been a 137 per cent increase in the number of children and youth being placed with extended family, and decreases in foster care and group home placements.
In 2022, 61 per cent of children and youth in out-of-home care fell under extended family care agreements, compared to 28 per cent in 2017.
“Not only in Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in traditional territory, but across Canada the protection and care of First Nations children is something that First Nations have been discussing for many years,” Chief Darren Taylor said in the release.
“This memorandum of understanding will ensure that we are part of the decision-making process in evaluating the needs of our children.”
In the release, Minister of Health and Social Services Tracy-Anne McPhee said the deal is a “crucial step” in the government-to-government relationship.
“In April 2022, our government adopted the Act to Amend the Child and Family Services Act, which was co-developed with all Yukon First Nations to help improve outcomes for children, youth and families who are involved with the child welfare system and address the over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in care. This legislation was the first of its kind in Canada,” she said.
“Our profound thanks to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in government for their tireless work in helping create a framework in which we can work together with the best interest of children and families at the forefront.”
In an email, Kormendy said the procedures and collaboration measures laid out in the MOU will ensure a “holistic approach” is taken.
“This will support in creating and maintaining a new way forward for all [Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in] families within the system along with providing measures to preserve and prevent families going into the system. The MOU is a step forward in preparation of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in drawing down [Family and Children’s Services].”
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org