Doris Bill would like to see Aunty’s Place open yesterday.
The Chief of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation said April 4 that it’s time for the First Nation to offer its own housing to KDFN youth.
Bill, who grew up in care, said it’s something she’s been talking about since she became chief three years ago. It’s a point, in KDFN’s four-year strategic plan that “at-risk children and youth (be) protected and supported, and remain in our community.”
She knows what the experience is like. Growing up, she found it tough to get along with 30 or 40 different personalities in a house where everything was controlled by someone else. On top of that, she said group homes have a poor reputation, one that’s undeserved, in terms of public perception.
“The last thing I want to call it is a group home,” Bill said of Aunty’s Place, which, at this point, is just a concept.
“There’s many stigmas attached to a group home, for instance all this NIMBYism that was going on in Porter Creek around the group home,” she said, referencing the house on Wann Road where the Yukon government will house up to 10 adult youth who are transitioning out of care.
Bill said she was discouraged by the assumptions people made about the youth who will live there.
Beyond those assumptions, Bill said she wants to establish a place that’s less institutional.
“It just doesn’t feel like a home,” she said of her experience in care. For her, she said that even though there were plenty of people around all the time, it was a lonely place.
There are no concrete timelines in place for establishing Aunty’s Place. There also haven’t been any partners identified, though Bill said KDFN has been talking to the Yukon government about it for quite some time. There’s also no location at the moment, though Bill said she’d like to see it in the MacIntyre neighbourhood.
She wants the youth living at Aunty’s Place to be able to connect with their community. She said that’s something that can be difficult to do currently. The days where kids in care have the opportunity to come together are too few and far between, she said.
Recently, KDFN expanded youth programming and hired a youth outreach worker and youth program coordinator to run programs including those that ran at Jackson Lake in February and March. Some of these include fitness sessions and moosehide tanning wellness camps.
“That’s really key for us because when you’re placed in the public system, you lose that connection. It’s very difficult. As a First Nations community, we do what we can to reach out.”
One of the challenges KDFN faces is the high number of kids who are in care. She said the first nation has one YG social worker. Within KDFN, there are two child and family liaison positions, one of which is currently vacant.
“Capacity is a huge issue for us,” she said. “We are trying to, as best we can, deal with the situation at hand, but it’s very difficult.”
In addition to challenges though, Bill said there have also been improvements. She cited the current review of a 2011 memorandum of agreement between KDFN and YG’s department of health and social services. She also said First Nations child care has become an issue that’s being discussed at the territorial and federal government levels.
She said KDFN has waited for a long time for some of those changes, and she is hopeful that more substantial changes.
“Quite frankly I think I’d love to be able to work with these young kids and give them the life skills that they need,” she said. “I think we can work with them to prepare them for life outside the system. I think we’re in a better position to do that.”
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org