Kiana Cardinal, the youth engagement officer for the Confederacy of Treaty Six Nations, is involved in the facilitation of a youth symposium in Edmonton this week that will explore transitioning youth out of the care system. (Kiana Cardinal) Kiana Cardinal’s best friend used to come over to her family’s house to play.
They would do normal things, like annoy Cardinal’s older sisters and then take off running and laughing to the trees outside, where they’d try to build forts.
Then one day when they were still elementary-school age, Cardinal’s best friend was gone.
The other little girl was a child in care. She had lived with her siblings in a group home on Alexander First Nation.
Cardinal remembers hearing that her best friend had gone back to live with her mother.
Years later, when Cardinal was starting high school, she heard the news: her old friend had gotten in with a bad crowd and was dead.
"There were no supports," Cardinal said. "There were no better systems in place to make sure it was a stable home for her to go back to and to make sure it was a safe environment."
Cardinal, now 20 years old, is the youth engagement officer for the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations. She’s part of a team that also includes representation for Treaty Seven and Treaty Eight, and which is facilitating a conference on transitioning youth out of the care system.
Nearly 100 youth from First Nations across Alberta will meet in Edmonton between Monday and Wednesday to — for the first time — give their opinions on what supports are necessary to succeed. ‘A real vulnerable time’
The provincial child and youth advocate, Del Graff, said there’s a gap when it comes to the youngsters aging out of the system.
"Transitioning into independence, that can be a real vulnerable time," said Graff, who will speak at the conference. "Transitions are difficult for young adults in the best of circumstances, but when they struggled with being in care … it can be that much more." While Indigenous youth make up 10 per cent of the population of Alberta, Graff said they make up 70 per cent of the children in provincial care.
"Because of that over-representation, we’ve got to have some dialogue with those young people," said Graff, who is Métis himself and has firsthand experience with the care system. "What would make it so they didn’t have to grow up in a system that’s not meant for children to grow up in?
"Those of us who have had experience with adversity certainly do have some understanding of what that feels like. We’ve got to be able to learn from the young people and that’s really part of what this conference is all about."
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