A delegation from the Yukon travelled to southern British Columbia at the end of March to visit First Nations-run child welfare agencies in the province in the hopes of learning about practices and processes that could one day be implemented at home.
Organized by the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN), the March 25 to 29 trip saw representatives from CYFN, Ross River Dena Council, Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and the Yukon and Canadian governments tour six child welfare agencies in and around the Vancouver and Vancouver Island area.
CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers said the delegation was able to visit agencies in both urban and rural settings and observe how each agency geared its programming towards its children’s specific needs.
“I think one of the biggest findings I’ve had in terms of some of the positive aspects of a child welfare agency is that when First Nations have child welfare agencies, they can ensure that their programming is more culturally responsive and culturally competent than obviously what the ministry can do in B.C., so you saw a lot of cultural rooting,” Chambers said.
Another positive aspect of the British Columbia child welfare system the delegation learned about, Chambers said, is an exemption committee made up of First Nations agencies that have a say in whether adoptions involving Indigenous children move forward.
“That is something we hope to explore here in the Yukon around ensuring First Nations are involved in adoptions,” she said.
One area Chambers said she found the British Columbia agencies lacking in, though, was resources geared towards addressing the root causes of why and how children end up in the care of welfare agencies, such as poverty, family violence and addictions.
“It was kind of like, ‘Okay, the kid’s in care now, what can we do that’s more culturally appropriate?’ Not so much, ‘Why are the kids in care?’ And that was one of the biggest challenges that we heard from them as well, it wasn’t dealing (with) the root, systemic causes of why children are apprehended and need protection,” she said.
CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston, who was not part of the delegation, said the trip was part of CYFN’s larger goal to get Yukon First Nations involved in leading and shaping systems that its citizens too often find themselves struggling in, which, besides child welfare, include justice, health and education.
“If you go back to Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow … there’s one section in particular that talks about the social aspect and it says, in many cases, the programs are the problem, not the people administering them — the idea behind the program is wrong,” Johnston said in an interview April 16.
“The whole idea is to have self-government and within the self-government reality is (for) our community, our nations, to have a say on where their people are going, particularly when it comes to education, health, justice, the environment, and having the ability for us to find success in our own ways.”
Johnston said he was encouraged, though, that the Yukon government has been open to conversations about increasing Yukon First Nations’ involvement in all levels and systems.
“It’s exciting times even though we’re dealing with some heavy issues.… it’s good that we’re having that conversation and it’s good that we’re working together as governments to ensure that we improve the lives of First Nations people in this territory,” he said.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org