A process that began with hope has ended in heartbreak.
The recent disintegration of the partnership between the Yukon and the Council of Yukon First Nations to revamp the Children’s Act has left many with a deep sense of hurt, said Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Lorraine Peter.
“This whole process gave people a lot of hope and a sense that they were finally going to be part of a process that’s going to be so key to our children,” she said.
“Then to have the premier say, ‘We no longer need you because we have what we need and we’re going to move on with or without you.’ It’s just unbelievably disrespectful.”
And that has been the message from Premier Dennis Fentie’s office since members of the chief’s committee on health withdrew from the review late last week.
The government broke its end of the deal when it walked into the last meeting with a draft policy in hand, said Andy Carvill, Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief.
“We have to be involved in the policy development right up to the stages of legislation development,” Carvill told a news conference.
“When we look at the majority of children in care, they are our children.”
Without the council the review is no longer meaningful, said Peter, who attended the announcement.
“It’s not valid because (the chief’s committee) has not been involved for the last eight months,” she said.
“I just felt a real sense of shock and betrayal sitting at that news conference. It’s another indication that this Yukon Party government has no intention of honouring their commitments and their agreements with First Nations people.”
The hard part of a commitment isn’t making it, but living up to it, said Todd Hardy, leader of the Official Opposition and the NDP’s Health and Social Services critic.
“To say it is simple; to live by it is the challenge,” he said.
“In this case it’s extremely disappointing and I’m very worried.”
Plowing forward without First Nations is not abiding by a promise of co-operation, said Hardy.
Carvill’s wrong, government workers did not show up with a draft policy, said Fentie.
They compiled a report summarizing the last 18 months of work, he said in a recent interview.
Either way, the council has walked away, said Hardy.
The government should not make the amendments without them, he added.
“Not only does this jeopardize the Children’s Act review, it jeopardizes the whole understanding of what you mean by equal partners,” said Hardy.
Liberal Health and Social Services critic and Kluane MLA Gary McRobb agrees.
“Without (the council’s) stamp of approval on the act, it’s basically a moot process,” McRobb said.
“Their role is vital in this.”
Some First Nations may continue with the process, Fentie told The News.
“We leave it open for them to make their choice,” he said.
“Whether it be through the (council), or with each individual First Nation government, who we have our main responsibility to, we will continue to conclude this process, make the necessary amendments and improve significantly our ability to deal with children in care.”
This is just a final grasp at making the crumbling process valid, said McRobb.
“What (Fentie) is doing now is called an end run,” he added.
Fentie needs to bring Carvill and the council back to the table, said Hardy.
With an issue as emotionally charged and important as the fate of children, Fentie should take a deep breath and think about the implications of moving forward, said Peter.
“I believe the premier needs to take a step backwards, needs to look at the whole picture and reconsider his decision,” she said.
“It’s very hard and it’s very emotional. When we talk about our children, it’s not something we take lightly.”