Winnipeg summit puts spotlight on Indigenous child-welfare laws

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Ottawa is willing to move ahead with the first national Indigenous child-welfare laws in Canada, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott says.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/03/2018 (1707 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Ottawa is willing to move ahead with the first national Indigenous child-welfare laws in Canada, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott says.

Philpott made the comments Tuesday in Winnipeg, after she moderated a panel of seven Métis adults who recounted experiences of being removed from their families and placed in foster care in Ontario and British Columbia as children.

Some were told their parents were dead, when they weren’t. Others were moved from place to place. All said they wished the system had been helped their families stay together, rather than apprehending the children.

ALEXANDRA PAUL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Metis leaders stand with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott during a break at a three-day Metis child and family services summit that wraps up Wednesday.

The panel was part of a Métis Nation-sponsored, two-day summit on Child and Family Services. During a news conference that followed, Philpott made some of her strongest statements since she declared — at a January meeting with First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders — the child-welfare system for Indigenous people in Canada was in crisis.

At the time, Philpott mused about the possibility of Canada adopting a legislative framework that would enable Indigenous peoples to take control of child welfare. Up to now, child welfare has been the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. Introducing a federal framework would require co-operation across all levels of government, including on First Nations and in Métis and Inuit communities.

On Tuesday, the minister said she’s consulting Indigenous leaders on how to move forward.

“We recognize the timeline is short within our mandate (the next federal election will likely be in October 2019). To introduce legislation and get it through the House is potentially challenging. I need to hear from our partners, First Nation, Inuit and Métis leaders across the country as to where this ranks in their priorities,” Philpott said.

“We are prepared to do the work to put legislation in place that’s co-developed and move it through, potentially before the end of the mandate,” she said. “This is not something we decide on our own. It needs to be done in an appropriate, respectful manner.”

In recent months, Ottawa has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs on child welfare.

On Wednesday, Philpott is expected to sign a similar agreement on health with the province’s northern chiefs, represented by the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

“The minister got a round of applause when she said she would work with the Métis governments on legislation that will ensure (apprehension) will not happen in the future. We believe that legislation is absolutely necessary. That the children must be at home with their families, in their communities, with their own culture and identity,” Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand said.

Thousands of Indigenous children were removed from their families, often because of poverty, and adopted out to non-Indigenous families in Canada, the United States, and as far away as Europe, a phenomenon known as the ’60s Scoop.

“Legislation robbed us of our children in the ’60s and ’70s, and sent them to the States and all around the world. Now, legislation can create a new future where we will never ever fear that our children will be robbed from us again,” Chartrand said.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which released its executive summary in 2015, called for federal laws to protect Indigenous children in the child-welfare system.

The U.S. offers examples of laws that recognize the authority of Indigenous people to control child welfare. There are also legal precedents Ottawa can draw on such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We see that babies are apprehended from mothers in hospitals in this city, without the mother necessarily having been forewarned there was an alert on her chart. We see that there’s no onus, no due process required to show every other avenue has been pursued that there’s a less-disruptive method than apprehension of the child,” said Philpott.

The minister then referenced a recent, precedent-setting court ruling in B.C. that upheld a mother’s right to daily access to her newborn.

“We saw the courts uphold a provincial law that did require recognition of due process. But we’re not seeing that across the land… These are things that federal legislation could do.”

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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