A new children’s act has been in the making for five years, why not wait another several months? say Yukon First Nation leaders.
Last week, chiefs attending a Council of Yukon First Nation’s leadership meeting passed a resolution asking the territory to delay introducing the act this spring.
It’s a progressive bill, but it needs substantive revision, said the chiefs.
There is concern about the lack of a children’s advocate, said Champagne/Aishihik Chief Diane Strand.
“We need to have an advocate,” she said.
It’s been a long process to draft the legislation, so take four or five more months to do it right, said Strand, who has been a foster parent in the past.
“When we asked the government about our concerns, they didn’t have an answer,” said Strand.
“We need those answers.”
The government has pledged to introduce the 116-page Child and Family Services Act in the legislature this spring.
After nearly five years of consultation and research, the government released a draft earlier this year.
Family, culture and community are the three pillars of the act, with an emphasis on giving First Nations more responsibility for planning and delivery of services.
It encourages placing children with extended family when possible and aims to lessen court involvement and strengthen the role of parents and children in determining a child’s placement.
It pledges more support for 19- to 24-year-olds who are making the transition to independent living from foster care.
Mandatory reporting of abuse and neglect will be required.
But critics note the lack of a children’s advocate in the act, something all other territories and provinces provide.
“Yukon First Nations and their citizens have identified serious concerns with respect to the proposed bill, and, as a result, it requires substantive revision,” says CYFN’s resolution.
The council also proposed holding a symposium to discuss the bill’s implications and to identify remaining concerns.
First Nation technicians “must be allowed” to work the territory offices to review the work and develop guidelines and revision of the bill once the targeted consultations are finished, says the resolution.
Health Minister Brad Cathers and other Health officials did not return calls before press time.
A letter to Premier Dennis Fentie drafted by the chiefs mirrors the content in the resolution.
Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Joe Linklater refused to sign the letter, and publicly admitted that fact during the leadership meeting.
Five years has been enough and the long process to implementation is becoming frustrating, said Linklater.
“The legislation is right there — it’s so close and we can’t seem to access the changes that we need,” he said.
“We’ve looked at it from the Old Crow perspective and we feel the act as it’s currently drafted is adequate. It’s not perfect, but it’s something we can work with.”
The legislation is needed now, he added.
“The current act is archaic and wasn’t designed to deal with self-governing First Nations so it doesn’t jive with any of the ways we do things now,” said Linklater.
“It needs to be changed. And it is. It just hasn’t been passed.”
First Nation participation in the drafting of the legislation was not always amicable.
While a council representative has been involved since the beginning, grand chief Andy Carville pulled out of the process in 2005.
Kwanlin Dun has never been involved.
The act is territorial legislation and First Nation administrations were involved only in a consultative role.
Government officials hoped First Nations and other stakeholders would review the legislation by the end of January.
Each First Nation has different problems when it comes to the capacity to run its own programs.
But some, like the Carcross/Tagish First Nation’s, are considering separate legislation that would override federal and territorial law.
Champagne/Aishihikk has run its own child and family services in the past, but difficulties forced it to pass responsibility back to the territory.
The First Nation is not drafting its own legislation, but could, in the future, research and possibly draw down the responsibility, said Strand.
“If (the new act) doesn’t work, we know we can go there,” she said.
Old Crow is not considering its own legislation, said Linklater.
“There’s an enormous liability when it comes to children in care, so we’re hoping this legislation finds areas where we develop partnerships where the territory will come to the First Nation and seek our advice before they do anything that relates to our children,” he said.
The act makes room for such a relationship, he said.
Contact Jeremy Warren at: firstname.lastname@example.org