Ottawa promises Indigenous child welfare changes to end ‘humanitarian crisis’

Posted on December 1, 2018 in Equality Policy Context – Politics/Federal Politics
Nov. 30, 2018.   By

OTTAWA—In what was billed as a transformational move to end generations of suffering and cultural disruption, the federal government announced Friday it will co-develop new legislation with Canada’s three national Indigenous groups to transfer authority over child and family services to First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

The bill will be tabled in Parliament in early 2019 and will seek to end the “humanitarian crisis” in which Indigenous children are massively over-represented in private foster homes across Canada, where they are frequently isolated from their home communities, cultures and traditional languages, said Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott.

More than 52 per cent of children in private foster care are Indigenous, according to Philpott’s department. The 2016 census shows only 7.7 per cent of children under 14 in Canada are of Indigenous heritage. In Manitoba, more than 10,000 of the 11,000 kids in foster care are Indigenous, Philpott told reporters Friday.

She called the situation “our modern day variation on the legacy of residential schools” — a reference to the government-funded system of schools where generations of Indigenous students were taken from their families and forced to learn the language and religion of Canada’s European-majority culture.

“For a century now, based on discriminatory policies of government, we have been taking children away from their families,” Philpott said.

“This legislation marks a turning point to say ‘no more.’ No more scooping children, no more ripping apart families, no more lost children who don’t know their language, their culture, their lineage.”

Philpott said the coming legislation is intended to reform federally-delivered services so that children aren’t taken from Indigenous families into private foster care solely on the basis of economic poverty or health issues that go untreated. It will also ensure Indigenous groups have the right to determine their own laws, policies and practices for child and family services.

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the legislation will mark a “new chapter” where Indigenous groups can work towards a new system that respects First Nations’ languages and cultures.

“That’s what it’s all about: keeping children back home, in healthy homes — loving, caring, nurturing homes. Proud of who they are and where they come from,” he said.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed said announcing the legislation was “an immensely proud moment” as a political leader, and that Canada’s Indigenous child welfare system “is a measuring stick on how Canada is as a nation within the world.”

Métis Nation President Clément Chartier added he has mixed emotions, given that he helped organize an Indigenous child welfare conference 40 years ago. But he, too, welcomed the promised legislation for recognizing the Métis nation, which he said has been ignored in the past and excluded from sweeping lawsuits and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s inquiry into the history and legacy of the residential school system.

Child welfare has consistently been highlighted as one of the areas — along with housing, health care, education and others — where non-Indigenous Canadians have access to better services and more funding than Indigenous peoples. Earlier this year, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled for the fifth time since 2016 that there is “systemic discrimination” in the federal government’s child welfare system for Indigenous children.

In an interview with the Star, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the new child welfare bill is another part of the effort to scrap the 19th-century Indian Act and reconstitute the federal government’s relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis to recognize the Indigenous right to self-determination.

She also noted Saturday is the first day people can register as claimants in the $750-million “Sixties Scoop” settlement for thousands of Indigenous people who were removed from their communities and placed in non-Indigenous foster care from 1951 to 1991.

The aim now, Bennett said, is to stop the “Millennial Scoop.”

“Removing these children from their families and their culture ends up with terrible results,” she said, pointing to higher rates of incarceration, suicide and the frequency of foster care in the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“If we’re going to deal with what happened in the past, we have to stop it from happening in the present.”

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics.

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