Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Let natives care for kids: chiefs

Autonomy would cut costs, inquiry told

  • Print

They took care of their kids prior to European contact for thousands of years and need to resume that control for the sake of child welfare, a spokesman for Manitoba chiefs told the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair Monday.

"It's left a bit of a tragic situation for many of our children and our families," said Norman Bone, who grew up at Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation near Riding Mountain National Park. "Initially, we were independent and sustainable. We've since become dependent."

The longtime child welfare advocate, who has served as Keeseekoowenin's chief more than once, described the history of child welfare in Manitoba from first contact with Europeans to residential schools to the "60's scoop" of aboriginal children taken away for adoption to the current devolution of the child welfare system. It hasn't gone far enough, said Bone.

"We're finding extreme difficulty in being able to function in that system because it's one of dependency," Bone told the inquiry. The number of kids in care in Manitoba has grown to nearly 10,000 and more than 80 per cent are aboriginal.

"We just put brown faces in those chairs," he said. By "borrowing legislation" from existing governments, they haven't been able to author and approve their own child welfare legislation, he said at the inquiry that began in September. It was ordered by the province after Phoenix's 2005 death on Fisher River First Nation was discovered in 2006. The probe is to find out why it took so long for the five-year-old's death to be discovered, how the little girl in and out of care her whole life fell through Manitoba's child welfare safety net and what's been done or needs to be done to improve it.

Since 1870 and the creation of the Indian Act, First Nations' houses have been "emptied out" of their resources and responsibilities, Bone said. If original treaties were honoured, First Nations would have the resources to run their own child welfare systems again, he said.

"Prior to contact, we were self-governing," said Bone. The Ojibway survived long, severe winters like the one Manitoba just endured for thousands of years before colonization, he said to illustrate his point. "You couldn't have lived without being organized in such a way to survive and look after your family."

Restoring aboriginal autonomy can reduce the number of kids in care and save money, the inquiry heard. The West Region Child and Family Services' Vision Seekers program that ran in Skownan First Nation saved more than $25 million, a report presented at the inquiry said. The program was set up from a holistic aboriginal family and community healing perspective. The program offered life-skills workshops, adult education, a community-centred therapy program and a career-trek program for young adolescents and their parents. It engaged children, adolescents, youth, parents and elders. The report said it returned $6.20 in savings for every $1 spent.

Restoring First Nations' control over their own kids is necessary to create a system that works, said Bone. New legislation might be similar to existing legislation but it should come from the people it's meant to govern, he said. Among Manitoba's 62 First Nations, there are several different tribes and languages spoken, but for effective child welfare systems to be in place, they need to reflect them, said Bone.

"If we're looking at having laws... we have to design (them)," said Bone.

"Hopefully it won't take 100 years."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2013 A7

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

Photo Store Gallery

  • Down the Hatch- A pelican swallows a fresh fish that it caught on the Red River near Lockport, Manitoba. Wednesday morning- May 01, 2013   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Now that the snow is mostly gone, what are your plans?

View Results

Ads by Google