Indigenous issues have largely been absent from this election campaign. When the topic does arise, the conversations are limited to pipelines and resource extraction. These are tired narratives within Canadian politics, and completely fail to consider the diverse needs of Indigenous peoples living off-reserve in Canada today. They also fail to shed light on the implications of the fact that Indigenous people represent the youngest, most diverse, and fastest growing population in Canada.

According to the 2016 census, 51.8 per cent of Indigenous peoples now live in metropolitan areas of at least 30,000 people. Ontario is the most populous province or territory in Canada when it comes to Indigenous people. Of the 375,000 Indigenous people living in Ontario, 80 per cent now live off-reserve, and 20 per cent of the Indigenous population in Ontario resides in Toronto.

Nowhere is this demographic reality more important than in child welfare. Indigenous children are vastly overrepresented in child welfare — this group accounts for 52 per cent of children in foster care, despite representing just 7.7 per cent of children in Canada aged 0-14.

Bill C-92, which will become law on Jan. 1, aims to address this overrepresentation and affirm the jurisdiction of Indigenous peoples in the provision of child and family services in Canada. Though the bill has achieved royal assent, not all participants and stakeholders were adequately consulted nor satisfied with the results. There is a critical gap in Bill C-92 that fails to address the need for urban service providers to be involved in the federal transformation of Indigenous child and family services. According to unpublished data from the most recent Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect-2018, in 85 per cent of investigations conducted for First Nations children, the family resided off-reserve.

Collaboration with urban service delivery experts is paramount to achieve the desired outcomes of this legislation. In September, urban Indigenous child and family well-being organizations from across Canada met in the first National Forum on Urban Aboriginal Child and Family Well-Being. This forum was called by Native Child and Family Services of Toronto to consider the impacts of the blatant exclusion of urban Indigenous voices in the development of Bill C-92. While we support Indigenous self-determination and jurisdiction, we need to consider the importance of demographic trends and the contemporary realities that bring Indigenous families to urban settings.

Indigenous people have been creating community organizations in urban spaces since the 1950s. As a result, we have strong, culturally grounded organizations delivering Indigenous child and family well-being services in urban spaces across Canada. These organizations, including Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, have become the experts in decolonizing inherited colonial child welfare mandates and delivering culturally grounded, holistic, prevention-focused child and family well-being services to Indigenous families across Canada. Failing to consult with these organizations represents a critical failure on behalf of the large group of Indigenous families who access these services in urban spaces.

These reasons compelled me to join my colleagues from across the country in releasing a position paper, titled “A Call for the Inclusions of Urban Aboriginal Service Providers in the Federal Transformation of Aboriginal Child Welfare.” In it we call on Indigenous Services Canada to provide an opportunity for urban agencies to deliver this feedback into the regulations being developed to accompany Bill C-92. It is critically important we have a seat at any national table focused on the implementation of Bill C-92, as well as the National Child Welfare Transformation Table.

Regardless of which party forms a government next week, we need the federal government, along with Indigenous Services Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami to make meaningful space available in federal processes for the inclusion of urban service providers.

Urban service providers wholeheartedly support Indigenous self-determination and jurisdiction. We also recognize that the successful implementation of Bill C-92 will need to be informed by the unique and legitimate needs, aspirations, and cultural identities of Indigenous children and families accessing services in diverse urban spaces.

Dr. Jeffrey Schiffer is executive director of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto and is of Métis and German ancestry.