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

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ business committee is recommending busing for the Rutherford and Frank J. Ney elementary school area be retained. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo school trustees vote against cutting Rutherford-Frank J. Ney bus route

Staff report points to yearly transportation budget deficits

Nanaimo RCMP seek help in locating Shannon Lettington, 35. (Submitted photo)
Nanaimo RCMP searching for missing 35-year-old woman

Shannon Lettington, of Nanaimo, has not contacted her family since October

This month Christy Blom’s Springtime show is on display at Art 10 Gallery. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo painter welcomes spring with watercolour exhibition

Christy Blom presents month-long ‘Springtime’ show at Art 10 Gallery

Lucas Philp, senior fish culturist at Vancouver Island Trout Hatchery, packs up pipes and hoses used to transfer trout from the transport truck into lakes, shortly after releasing about 500 rainbow trout into Colliery Dam No. 3 lake Wednesday. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
There are fresh fish to catch in Nanaimo’s lakes

Vancouver Island Trout Hatchery released thousands of catchable-size rainbow trout this week

Protesters march on Nanaimo’s Commercial Street last September, calling for greater protection of B.C.’s old-growth forests. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: More old growth needs protecting

Public support for protecting old-growth forests is evident, says letter writer

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Beef to the plow driver who completely soaked me in dirty slush at the bus stop at Fifth and Hillcrest. I could tell you were driving quite fast so I tried to back up as far as the snowbank would allow but you did not slow down. I am 68 and had to pick up a prescription and had no choice but to continue on soaking wet.
Beefs & Bouquets, March 3

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail editor@nanaimobulletin.com

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

The intersection of Melrose Street and Third Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Suspect in custody after two pedestrians struck in Port Alberni hit and run

RCMP asking for video footage, credit witnesses for quick arrest

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Comox Valley RCMP raid Courtenay problem house, several arrests made

Comox Valley RCMP conducted a raid of a problem house on 20th… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Most Read