Drawing down the Family Act with stories

Carcross/Tagish First Nation is holding onto its children. And it needs volunteers.

Carcross/Tagish First Nation is holding onto its children.

And it needs volunteers.

Over the last 10 years, the First Nation has been working on its Family Act, a 139-page document comprised of stories and legends that will help it take over the welfare of its own children.

“The stories from the elders are based on values and virtues and our governance comes from these stories,” said Nina Bolton, who has been working on the act with the First Nation.

Under the new law, if a child is in trouble, instead of calling social services, the child’s family will get together and try to sort things out. If that doesn’t work, the discussions will expand to include Carcross/Tagish clans. And if more help is still needed, the problem will go to the family council.

That’s where the volunteers come in.

The family council is comprised of interested Carcross/Tagish members who’ve gone through some form of training.

The First Nation plans to offer pursuit of excellence training, and more justice training, said Bolton.

The family council will not include social workers or counsellors. Although, the First Nation does have an addictions counsellor, she said.

Bolton shies away from the word social worker.

“If you go back in history to the Indian Act, a lot of our responsibilities were taken away from us,” she said. “We were dependent on government and anything we wanted, we had to get their permission. Then there was residential school and our kids were taken away.

“And when the residential schools closed and kids were returning to their homes, social workers decided they shouldn’t be returning to these slovenly hovels, so they were scooped away, put in foster homes, then adopted.”

Child welfare has been involved since, said Bolton.

“And children are still being removed from homes.”

But land claim settlements have given First Nations more authority. “And we have to start taking care of our own.”

On Tuesday, Bolton and Carcross/Tagish Chief Mark Wedge spent all day in meetings with the Yukon government discussing a number of issues, including the First Nation’s plan to implement its own Family Act.

“It’s an ongoing process,” said Bolton.

Right now, Carcross/Tagish works with Social Services to sort out what is best for its children. But in future, it would like to eliminate the need for permanent care and adoption altogether.

“Today, when a child is removed because of abuse and neglect they are placed in permanent care within three to six months,” said Bolton.

“But we want to encourage extended family to look after that child until they’re ready to be reunited with their parents. And we don’t want the parents excluded, we want to keep them involved.

“It takes a whole community to raise a child.”

The family council will hold circles with the families to find their strength and empower them, based on elders’ teachings and stories.

And while she knows many are skeptical of the First Nations’ capacity to draw down social services, Bolton is hopeful.

“We are a minority and we’re trying to get back on our feet,” she said.

“We are learning to walk, and we have to be prepared to fall down in the process, then get back up again.”

To read the Carcross/Tagish Family Act go to www.ctfn.ca and click on Book Two: Traditional Family Practices and Beliefs.

Contact Genesee Keevil at