Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020, to sign a protocol agreement to advance First Nations’ exercise of jurisdiction over child and family services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020, to sign a protocol agreement to advance First Nations’ exercise of jurisdiction over child and family services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Provinces pose challenge to Indigenous child-welfare reform: Bellegarde

It’s partly a response to a long history of off-reserve authorities removing Indigenous children from their communities

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations says provincial governments that want to cling to their authority over child welfare are one of the biggest barriers to implementing new legislation giving Indigenous communities control over their children’s well-being.

Bellegarde and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller signed what they called a “protocol agreement” in Ottawa Tuesday that is the next step in implementing Bill C-92. That bill, which passed last year and took effect on Jan. 1, recognizes the inherent right Indigenous communities have to oversee child-welfare services.

“That’s one of the biggest challenges is getting the premiers and the territorial governments to accept that there is a jurisdiction that needs to be respected,” he said.

It’s partly a response to a long history of off-reserve authorities removing Indigenous children from their communities in the name of protecting them.

Under the bill, Indigenous organizations and governments can develop their own child-welfare laws and programs, in agreements reached with the federal government. Tuesday’s document outlines how some of those discussions will happen, including regular meetings between Ottawa and Indigenous governments.

Bellegarde said, however, that the provinces have to be part of the conversation, because it’s provincial government services that are most affected. In Canada, Ottawa provides the funding for child protection services on reserves but those services are governed by provincial laws and in most cases, provided by provincial agencies.

Bill C-92 will change that, setting national standards in federal law that will require child welfare services provided to First Nations, Metis and Inuit children put children’s best interests first, including preserving their culture, language, religion and heritage, and recognizing the importance of having an ongoing relationship with their community.

Some provinces are wary or flat-out reject the bill. Quebec has gone to court to the challenge the law as unconstitutional, while Manitoba has expressed concern about how parallel systems will co-operate, including with child-abuse registries and the provincial court system.

Miller said he believes the law is constitutional.

He also said funding is going to require a conversation with provincial governments. Provincial governments do fund services for Indigenous children living off reserves, but some organizations and communities will want to introduce their own programs regardless of where their kids are living, which may require transfers of both federal and provincial funds.

Miller said the goal has to be how to make things better, not to fight over jurisdiction.

“I would prefer to be in a discussion as to who is doing the best job by Indigenous children and not who has the right to continue to be doing a miserable job, which is what we’ve been doing up to now,” he said.

Miller did not, however, put any new money on the table. The Assembly of First Nations estimated last year that at least $3.5 billion over five years will be needed to properly implement Bill C-92.

Chronic underfunding for Indigenous child welfare services led the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to rule in 2016 that the federal government was discriminating against First Nations children.

Providing enough money so social services can work with families to prevent kids from being put in foster care is one of the key needs. That lack of service is one of the reasons Indigenous children are more likely to be taken away from their parents than non-Indigenous children are.

About eight per cent of children in Canada are First Nations, Inuit or Metis but they account for more than half the kids in care, and as many as 90 per cent in Manitoba.

Miller said Tuesday he wants the budget to be determined by what is needed as communities and organizations take the steps to create their own programs.

For First Nations child-welfare advocate Cindy Blackstock, the new law is meaningless without specific, targeted funding for communities to protect their own children.

The executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which brought the challenge that led to the 2016 human-rights ruling, said the lack of any actual dollars is a big red flag that this will be nothing more than lip service.

“Children’s lives didn’t change today,” she said.

Blackstock noted the Liberal government, like the Conservative one before it, fought the accusation it wasn’t funding First Nations kids equally and has not fully responded to the tribunal’s repeated orders to fix that.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Child welfareIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maintenance work at lower City Centre Mall parking lot. (Clare Rayment/Kitimat Northern Sentinel)
Lower City Centre Mall entrance by No Frills closed

District doing maintenance work from 8 a.m. to early afternoon Wednesday (Jan. 27)

Collision at the Haisla/Kuldo Blvds. intersection Tuesday (Jan. 26). (Clare Rayment/Kitimat Northern Sentinel)
Collision at Haisla and Kuldo Boulevards

Five people taken to hospital with minor injuries

Angie Mindus photo
Clare’s Corner: A place for everything — and I mean everything

It’s amazing to see how much ‘stuff’ one can accumulate in their house over several months

(Jacqueline Sweet photo)
Jacqueline Sweet, right, at her graduation from the Bachelor of Arts at Simon Fraser University with her friend and fellow graduate, Laura Taylor.
In Our Valley: Jacqueline Sweet

Sweet said her career can feel isolating in the North, but she loves that she’s able to help people

(Cara Webb photo)
Cara Webb’s dog, Millie, who bolted during New Year’s Eve fireworks and was missing for almost a week. She was eventually found by Webb’s neighbour.
Good News, Kitimat!

Bringing some local good news to your week

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at B.C. legislature on the province’s mass vaccination plan for COVID-19, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
COVID-19 quarantine not an option for B.C., John Horgan says

Apres-ski parties increase risk, not interprovincial travel

Worker at Swartz Bay terminal on Monday, January 20, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Former BC Ferries employee alleges he was fired because of his race

Imraan Goondiwala has been granted a BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker have been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
B.C. couple who travelled to Yukon for COVID vaccine ineligible for 2nd dose until summer

Health officials planning new measures to ensure people verify where they live before inoculation

(File)
Mask dispute in court leaves Vancouver cop with broken leg

Man allegedly refused to put on a mask and resisted arrest

(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

SAR crews worked late into the night Tuesday to rescue an injured snowboarder in North Vancouver. (Facebook/North Shore Rescue)
Complicated, dangerous rescue saves man in avalanche near Cypress Mountain

North Shore SAR team braves considerable conditions to reach injured snowboarder

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
UPDATE: No sign of small plane that went down in waters south of Vancouver Island

Searchers out on both sides of border between Victoria and Port Angeles

Most Read