December 9, 2018

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Chiefs ready for First Nations-led CFS reform

Leaders endorse AMC-drafted bill at summit to improve system

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, says ‘all the right things are in motion’ regarding making First Nations responsible for its own child-welfare services.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, says ‘all the right things are in motion’ regarding making First Nations responsible for its own child-welfare services.

OTTAWA — Manitoba First Nations chiefs have rallied around a vision of pulling child welfare further from the provincial government’s hands, as Ottawa pushes to keep more Indigenous children within their families.

“I think all the right things are in motion,” Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), said Wednesday.

“We’re ready to go, as long as they (Ottawa) will appreciate that Manitoba will decide what’s good for Manitoba, and we will move forward in that direction.”

He was speaking on the sidelines of the Assembly of First Nations’ (AFN) summit, moments after chiefs passed two motions on Child and Family Services (CFS), one of which endorsed an AMC-drafted bill to reform the system, specifically in Manitoba.

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OTTAWA — Manitoba First Nations chiefs have rallied around a vision of pulling child welfare further from the provincial government’s hands, as Ottawa pushes to keep more Indigenous children within their families.

"I think all the right things are in motion," Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), said Wednesday.

"We’re ready to go, as long as they (Ottawa) will appreciate that Manitoba will decide what’s good for Manitoba, and we will move forward in that direction."

He was speaking on the sidelines of the Assembly of First Nations’ (AFN) summit, moments after chiefs passed two motions on Child and Family Services (CFS), one of which endorsed an AMC-drafted bill to reform the system, specifically in Manitoba.

The meeting came less than a week after Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott revealed Friday her plans to table legislation that would give Indigenous nations autonomy over CFS. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday the feds will table it in January.

Roughly 11,000 Manitoba children are in care, and 91 per cent of them are First Nations or Métis.

Manitoba is the only province with a semi-devolved system that has First Nations and Métis agencies administer CFS, but under provincial laws and a mix of funding. Meanwhile, Ottawa signed a memorandum with the AMC a year ago, kicking off talks on how to address the issue "specific issues" to the province.

"It can’t be a top-down approach," Dumas said. "It’s actually going to have to acknowledge and adhere to the work that we have done in our region (in order) to truly do something innovative and to truly change the status quo."

The AMC’s proposed law, obtained by the Free Press, came after years of input and largely aligns with the points Ottawa summarized after five months of consultation across Canada, such as trying to keep children within their families whenever safe. When children have to be moved outside the family, authorities must try housing them in the order of extended family, home community and then First Nation.

Called the Bringing Our Children Home Act, it would outline children’s rights to adequate housing, water, food and clothing. It would supersede provincial and federal laws, and make traditional knowledge-keepers the interpreter of the act, instead of judges.

"Canada will provide transfer payments directly to the… nations," who would be subject to "general capered accounting principles and audit reporting."

Wednesday’s motion endorsed the AMC bill, on the premise it follow the Liberals’ January bill. It also said Manitoba’s First Nations deserve autonomy over CFS, instead of being a component of a national body.

The AFN also passed a resolution calling for Ottawa to expand funding for programs that prevent child-welfare apprehensions, as well as better data collection and training.

Kevin Hart, the AFN regional chief for Manitoba, said Wednesday’s resolutions symbolize returning autonomy to his communities.

"An industry has been created with our children, and at the same time, ­policies and laws have been dictated, that basically state that us, as First Nations, at the end of the day, ‘you don’t have the capacity’ or ‘you’re not good enough’ to look after your own children," Hart said.

He also took a shot at the provincial government: "This enabling legislation is basically going to force the province of Manitoba, and the industry, to come to the table and talk to the First Nation leadership now."

Manitoba Families Minister Heather Stefanson wrote Wednesday the province wants "greater involvement of Indigenous leadership and communities in the design and delivery of Child and Family Services," but that this requires Indigenous groups, Ottawa and the province to have "strong relationships and ongoing dialogue... to advance our shared goals."

The AFN motions only apply to First Nations children; Métis leaders have their own visions of how to administer CFS for their children in Manitoba. Non-Indigenous children would remain under the provincial system.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

 

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History

Updated on Thursday, December 6, 2018 at 9:50 AM CST: Clarifies that the AMC’s proposed law, came after years of input and largely aligns with the points Ottawa summarized

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