Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wish lists from the front line: band chief

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REMOTE reserves need more control over child welfare, along with staff and training, says the chief of one of the province's poorest communities.

"Child welfare is now fully governed by the province. Each First Nation should have full jurisdiction over its own people, and there's still a lot of work that needs to be done there," said Chief David Harper of Garden Hill First Nation.

Harper's community is one of four Island Lake bands on the province's east side, one of the most remote and troubled. Last spring, almost 300 kids from the four reserves were in care.

Garden Hill is one of the northern bands experiencing friction with the Northern Authority, the provincially-mandated umbrella office that oversees six aboriginal child-welfare agencies.

Harper said all the rules, policies and legislation that govern child welfare still don't recognize the realities of reserve life and aboriginal culture. And, he said, the province still has the final say.

Harper, who ran for the provincial Tories in the last election, holds a controversial view at a time when many say devolution has gone too far, too fast and left aboriginal kids at risk. And other critics say generations of rampant sexual and physical abuse, addictions, overcrowding and abject poverty have left First Nations fundamentally unable to heal themselves.

But Harper says First Nations know best how to heal care for kids and the next step in devolution is to hand over genuine control to bands.

And he said his reserve needs significantly more staff and training.

"Any money that's been released by the province, it's always going to Winnipeg, Brandon, The Pas, Thompson... yet every time I heard our minister speak about us, we are a federal jurisdiction."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2008 b3

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