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Cultivating cultural connections

Cultural plans announced for Yukon First Nation children in care
Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Peter Johnston. (Yukon News file)

Yukon First Nations children and youth living in out-of-home care will each have a mandatory cultural plan in place in the coming months.

The announcement about the Cultural Connections Project, which includes the provision for the cultural plans among other initiatives, was made Feb. 17 at a joint press conference of the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN), the Yukon government and Indigenous Services Canada.

The initiative will see the federal government contribute $12.6 million over the next five years to the efforts.

Cultural connections

As officials explained, the project will see supports provided to connect all children in out-of-home care with their own cultures and communities, including the mandatory cultural plan that will be developed collaboratively with Yukon First Nations or CYFN.

Of the 84 children and youth in the territory in out-of-home care, approximately 90 per cent are Indigenous.

“All children deserve to be emotionally, physically and spiritually safe,” Tracy-Anne McPhee, the territory’s minister of health and social services, said. “They must be valued, loved and respected in their culture. This project reflects our commitment to reconciliation and the importance of culture and community for children involved in the child welfare system. It is also an example of true partnership and collaboration between Yukon First Nations, Canada and the Yukon.”

As it was outlined in a video produced by CYFN, many First Nations already have cultural support workers who connect members with programs and activities.

“CYFN is pleased to see this project come to fruition for the benefit of Yukon First Nations children,” CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston said. “This project is the result of collaboration across governments and Yukon First Nations and demonstrates a commitment to ensuring that Yukon First Nations children in care are able to maintain a connection to their culture and communities.”

A plan for each individual

Shadelle Chambers, executive director at CYFN, said each plan will be tailored to the individual’s circumstances. Age, community and other details will be factored into each plan, with a review of an individual’s plan to be done twice each year.

Chambers noted the initiative will ensure each child has access to group programs that may range from drum-making to on-the-land activities to language programs, time with elders and more.

The project, officials said, aligns with key priorities outlined in the Yukon’s Trilateral Table on the Wellbeing of Yukon First Nations Children and Families. In particular the importance of reunification and maintaining connections between children and families was highlighted along with recommendations made by Yukon First Nations during the recent review of the Yukon’s Child and Family Services Act.

It also supports the direction from the federal act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families in the Yukon by enhancing Yukon First Nations’ involvement in child and family services and supporting children to remain connected to their communities, languages and cultures, it was noted.

The act affirms the inherent rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis to exercise jurisdiction to their child and family services, and established guiding principles to be applied by all who provide child and family services to Indigenous children, officials said.

“The Cultural Connections Project is a reflection of governments working together to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s second point in the first Call to Action,” the announcement reads. “Specifically, it addresses the over-representation of Indigenous children in care and the call to keep children in culturally appropriate environments.”

Federal Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu said the project keeps focus on the wellness and happiness of First Nations children in the territory.

“Children can do their best when they are connected to family, community and culture,” she said.

Similarly, Yukon MP Brendan Hanley also reflected on the importance of culture for children.

“Home is not just a physical place, but an idea molded by culture, community and family,” he said. “The Cultural Connection Project launched today, is another step forward in real partnership with Yukon First Nations, to ensure the provision of culturally appropriate and community led supports for indigenous children in care. After a long journey, I am pleased to see it become a reality.”

It’s anticipated work on individual cultural plans will begin in April and be completed over a few months.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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