The residential school site examinations, opioid crisis and management of COVID-19 were all discussed at the Oct. 29 Yukon Forum meeting that brought together First Nations leaders and Yukon government cabinet.
The forum, which happens four times a year, took place at Haa Shagóon Hídi (formerly Carcross/Tagish Learning Centre).
“Today was a great day, we spent a lot of time talking about realities that are happening in our communities right now dealing with the opioid crisis,” said Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston, following the all-day meeting.
“We had a lot of discussions as well around COVID and the safety of our people,” he said. “First Nations communities want to have up-to-date – not only information – but up-to-date opportunities to help keep their community safe, whether that’s rapid testing kits or the ability for us to get continued vaccinations.”
The possible examinations of the Lower Post residential school on the border with British Columbia and the Choutla residential school in Carcross were also discussed.
Following the discovery of the remains of 215 children in an unmarked burial ground in Kamloops, the First Nation Government’s Burial Investigation Committee was established to consider a similar investigation of Yukon residential school sites.
Similar searches are underway or planned for sites across the country.
Johnston said the forum heard from both Tlingit elder Adeline Webber and Kwanlin Dun elder Judy Gingell, who provided an update on how the committee is moving forward.
“[The elders] stressed the fact that we are already advancing these talks that need the whole community representation. Particularly when it comes to Choutla school, all nations have been affected. Elders today very much wanted to ensure that not only will there be territorial support for this initiative, but to ensure that the Nations that are affected by this are taken very seriously,” he said.
Johnston said that while there are “no specific timelines” right now, the committee has important meetings coming up in November and is in close dialogue with the Tagish/Carcross First Nation in Carcross and the Dene Council in Lower Post.
He said support from First Nations who hadn’t previously spoken before was heard at the forum.
He said they are considering physical examinations of schools, emotional support for victims and families and education for the general public.
“There’s a lot of pieces moving,” he said. “As elder Judy mentioned, there are a lot of dynamics that they have to consider in this regard. Because we want to create a dialogue, but they want to be cognizant and aware of the sensitivity of this matter, and to ensure that they do things right.”
“But we need to make sure that this – it has a lot of momentum – we don’t want to lose any of that,” he said.
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