Yukon Indigenous safety summit discusses emergency preparedness, substance use

·3 min read

The first-ever Indigenous Community Safety Summit was held in Whitehorse this week.

The conference, titled “The Past, Present and Future” was streamed live on a hybrid platform allowing community people to attend without travelling.

The summit brought together people from Yukon communities, dignitaries and youth, as well as people from outside the territory. It took place Aug. 2 to 4 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.

The summit, though grounded in community safety issues, also raised other issues such as disaster preparedness and the administration of justice for First Nations people.

Short welcoming addresses were made by the chief of the two traditional territories hosting the event – Chief Amanda Leas of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Chief Doris Bill of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation. Yukon MP Brendan Hanley and host Gina Nagano of House of Wolf & Associates also made opening remarks.

The conference was a combination of keynote addresses, panel discussions and breakout sessions. A sacred fire burned outside the main conference room throughout.

Bill talked about the learnings that led to clearing community bush paths to make them safer and the successful implementation of the community safety officer program.

Multiple speakers stressed the need for initiatives to be community-designed, community-based and community–led. This applied to everything from administration of justice to emergency preparedness to trauma and substance use.

The importance of relationships also came up frequently – how to build trust to increase the effectiveness of interventions (especially with the RCMP); how to respond gently and check baggage at the door personally; and for governments, how to have respectful and constructive relations at the community level.

Another panel had representatives from four different communities talk about the importance of preparation before climate change disasters overtake communities. Each community has different threats and best responses. Former Chief Patrick Michel of Kenaka Bar British Columbia (near Lytton) talked about the importance of identifying risk, assessing probability and knowing the consequences; because climate change is happening and communities need to plan and prioritize now.

Prepping for climate change impacts was also a topic in one of the break-out sessions. The session was facilitated by Preparing Our Home, a program which focuses on empowering Indigenous youth as they become emergency preparedness leaders in their communities.

The conference heard from the young and old. Dave Joe, Yukon’s first Indigenous lawyer, reminded people of the administration of Justice agreements, and representatives of the Assembly of First Nations updated people on the progress on implementing federal legislation for First Nations policing as an essential service going forward.

The question of how you make communities fair and safe in a colonial-designed and racially biased system remains unanswered, but the message throughout the conference seemed to be that the starting point resides in community conversations.

The conference was delivered by House of Wolf & Associates Inc. in partnership with Preparing our Homes and the Indigenous Community Safety Partnership Program. It came about, in part, due to an Arctic Inspiration Prize awarded to Gina Nagano’s House of Wolf & Associates for its Indigenous Safety Partnership program.

House of Wolf & Associates is known for its work conducting community assessments and crime prevention through environmental design studies in Yukon communities. These studies serve as precursors to communities being able to best address their particular community needs and select options and strategies.

Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News