Assembly of First Nations Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek is expressing “gratitude and cautious optimism” for a federal agreement-in-principle to compensate First Nations people impacted by the child welfare system.
The proposed deal is worth close to $40 billion. Approximately $20 billion will compensate First Nation children, families and caregivers who were discriminated against and harmed by the child welfare system. A further $19.8 billion over five years will reform the current child welfare system.
It’s anticipated the agreement will be finalized by March 31, with Adamek noting the money is expected to reach First Nations by the end of the year.
In a Jan. 5 statement, Adamek said she was encouraged to see First Nation and non-First Nation leaders share the details of the agreement-in-principle.
“The dramatic overrepresentation of First Nation children in the Canadian welfare system is a painful reality that all First Nations are acutely aware of, and action to address this systemic discrimination is long overdue,” she said. “Time and time again we have heard political apologies for the countless crimes and violations of human rights that have been endured by First Nation peoples, and I welcome federal commitments to finally compensate the children, siblings, parents, uncles, aunties and grandparents who have been separated by this incredibly harmful system.”
Adamek went on to cite statistics showing First Nations children in Canada are 17.2 times more likely to be placed in foster care than a non-First Nation child. She described it as “a reality made possible by a series of compounding social, cultural, economic, and health-related inequities.”
In an emailed response to questions, Adamek said officials are still looking at how many Yukoners may be impacted by the agreement.
The agreement-in-princple outlines that compensation will be available to First Nations children on-reserve and in the Yukon who were removed from their homes between April 1, 1991 and March 31, 2022.
The regional AFN office has requested information on exactly what that will look like for Yukon First Nations and is waiting to receive the information. It’s anticipated individuals receiving compensation will get a minimum of $40,000, she said.
In the Yukon, Adamek said all 14 First Nations face challenges around housing, access to health and social services, high living costs, legacies of intergenerational trauma from residential schools, and more. “Thus, it is my expectation that part of the AIP’s (agreement-in-principle’s) $19.8 billion for reforms to the current child welfare system will go toward meaningful community-led engagements, ensuring that Yukon First Nations see their interests reflected in these reforms,” she said. “I look forward to working closely with the AFN National Executive and our federal partners to ensure that each of the 14 YFNs (Yukon First Nations) have their voices heard when it comes to spending this $19.8 billion in a stable and community-driven way.”
Work will continue with Yukon First Nations to look at how the agreement can support First Nations and their citizens.
While Adamek highlighted her optimism that compensation will be in the hands of Yukon First Nations by the end of the year, she also emphasized that no amount of money “can give time back to parents and children who were torn apart, nor will any amount of money erase the deep traumas endured by the generations of First Nations children taken by the child welfare system.
“However, it is my hope that this AIP will support the intergenerational healing needed so badly by First Nation families and communities, bringing an end to this discriminatory system so that future generations will grow up surrounded by the family, culture, language, community and love that all children deserve.”
She later noted that for Yukon First Nations, healing will come through nurturing connections to traditional territories, language, culture, and the land.
“If the intent of this agreement is to facilitate healing, then reforms to the child welfare system need to include considerations of these important elements and values of Yukon First Nations,” she said. “Lastly, given the unique realities regarding the 11 self-government agreements in the Yukon, there is much continued analysis to be done in efforts to ensure reforms are created and developed for and by all 14 YFN’s, including the 11 nations with final agreements, and three (of) those who continue to advance self determination independently.”
Adamek thanked First Nation leaders and federal ministers involved in working towards reaching the agreement-in-principle, while also emphasizing she and others will hold the federal government to its commitments.
“I will continue to push them and their respective ministries for action; to take a closer look at the factors that have allowed this discriminatory system to function for so long under the supervision of the federal government,” she said.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org