Revised children’s act ignores First Nations

ike Smith could pass a law tomorrow to draw down the Yukon Children’s Act. “Then all YTG social workers would be trespassers,”…

ike Smith could pass a law tomorrow to draw down the Yukon Children’s Act.

“Then all YTG social workers would be trespassers,” said the Kwanlin Dun chief.

“But I don’t want to act like YTG and just push something through.”

Kwanlin Dun didn’t participate in the five-year children’s act revision process.

“We didn’t think the (revised) act would meet our concerns,” Smith told a news conference on Friday.

There’s nothing in the revised draft that allows government to enter into real negotiations with First Nations, he said.

“As usual, it’s their way and that’s it.

“The act is not about children — it’s about the government taking our children.”

In voicing concern, Smith was not alone.

Carcross Tagish Chief Mark Wedge and Ta’an Chief Ruth Massie also challenged the revised act.

Corinne McKay, the former Council of Yukon First Nations representative in the revision process and Victoria Fred, the former government liaison attended as well.

McKay was involved with the children’s act revisions from the outset in 2003.

“We wanted to ensure First Nations had a voice in the new legislation and had an influence on the decisions made by individual social workers,” she said.

In 2005, McKay resigned.

“At the table, we were not able to agree on First Nations’ involvement,” she said.

First Nations wanted to be involved with decision-making before a child is removed from family — they want to work with the social workers, she said.

“But the new act still doesn’t see First Nations involved,” said McKay.

The draft requires First Nations be notified when a child is being placed in care.

But it’s after the fact, said McKay.

“The government comes in and says, ‘Look, we have one of your children.’

“How does that change things?”

The authorization remains with the Health minister and director, said Massie.

“We’ve been sitting down trying to get our voice, as First Nations, heard and we’re not quite there yet,” she said.

The new legislation was built on the premise of working jointly with First Nations, said Fred, who stepped down as government liaison.

“Our kids find themselves in care and are institutionalized in the justice system,” she said.

“And this (revision process) seemed like an opportunity to stop that trend and give Yukon First Nations responsibility for their own children.

“But with the emerging legislation there seems to be a disconnect between what we heard — that there would be more resources at the family and community level to avoid having children come into care — and the lack of voice we’ve been given.

“Simply to get notification that a kid is in care is inadequate.”

First Nations should be working with social workers right from the start, said Fred.

“From that first intervention they should be trying to prevent children from ending up in care.”

With the old act, there were complaints social workers had no appreciation for aboriginal culture or heritage, added McKay.

“We all agree the primary consideration is to keep children safe. But we also need to ensure the decisions made respect First Nations’ culture, heritage and the preservation of the family unit.”

The draft act needs to be re-drafted, said Smith.

“Right now we have lawyers who don’t understand us making the decisions,” he said.

“And we have kids coming back to us as true strangers, trying to find out who their relatives and families are.”

First Nations need to draw down children’s services, said Smith.

“We need to do this without the court, lawyers, judges and social workers — we’ll have our own staff and call them family workers.”

Carcross/Tagish First Nation is well on its way, and is developing its own family act.

“If (government) doesn’t accommodate the consensus of First Nations, then we will be forced to create separate streams of government,” said Wedge.

But in the interim, it’s important local governments dance together, he added.

First Nations want Premier Dennis Fentie to reject the draft.

“It’s premature,” said Wedge.

Despite frequent recommendations from stakeholders, there is no children’s advocate position in the draft.

“And without it, this legislation could be viewed as regressive,” said Wedge.

Also, the powers of the director are too broad, he said.

“There are places where First Nations could take more authority.”

The concept of extended family needs to be broadened as well, said Wedge.

In the current draft, there is no way to transfer children to the care of their First Nation, he said.

“We’ve been battling with the government for close to 40 years,” said Smith.

“And they’re really not listening.

“They just impose their ideas.”

Government has agreed to meet with First Nations for a two-day symposium to address some of the concerns with the children’s act revisions before the spring sitting begins on March 20th.

All First Nations are invited to share their concerns at the symposium, said Massie.

“And from these discussions we will come out with a decision if we will be going forward with this (draft) or not.”

The symposium is just another government sales job, said Smith.

“They just want to get a few chiefs on side and then push it through.”

There is no place in the revisions for meaningful consultation, said Smith.

“So we reject it and are not going to live by it.

“I think as First Nations we can sit down and draft a better act.”

The real issues in the community are alcohol and drug abuse, said Smith.

“And we have to provide healing programs that are family oriented.”

The current system doesn’t work, said Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon executive director Judy Pakozdy, who also attended the news conference.

“We’ve been dealing with survivors of foster care for years,” she said.

“And we are paying tons of money in taxes to support people who’ve been destroyed by the system.”

There have been 20-year-old clients at FASSY who’ve been moved 25 to 30 times in their life, added FASSY diagnostic co-ordinator Lilliam Sequeira.

It’s important we see the trauma that these children experience, she said.

“What is the difference between residential school and foster care?”

It’s estimated the government spends $5 to $10 million per person on people in care over the long-term, said Wedge.

And there was concern about the cost of a children’s advocate, he said.

“But we cannot afford not to address it.

“We have to break this cycle.”