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This article was published 8/12/2017 (841 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A new federal agreement with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs supports First Nations jurisdiction over child and family services.
AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas signed a memorandum of understanding on the subject in Ottawa with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.
"The signing of this (MOT) is an important step forward, focusing on improvements that First Nations in Manitoba want to see in the child-welfare system. This work will also ensure that our collaborative efforts will result in fewer children in care and more children reunited with their families and communities," Philpott said in a prepared statement issued after the Dec. 7, signing.
In Manitoba, more than 11,000 children are in child and family services care and more than 90 per cent of them are Indigenous. The provincial government has publicly recognized the system is in crisis and pledged reforms, including ones to restore families and give children a permanent link back to them.
Families Minister Scott Fielding welcomed the initiative.
"We want to work with our Indigenous partners and the federal government to find meaningful solutions that create better outcomes for all our children, on and off reserve," Fielding said.
Fielding met with Philpott and Southern Manitoba Grand Chief Jerry Daniels days later in Ottawa to discuss ways the province, the federal government and Manitoba's Indigenous leaders can work together.
In an interview the day after the signing, AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas explained what First Nations expect to accomplish in reforms.
"We’re not saying we don’t want the system. We need the system to do what it’s intended to do. It’s not about kidnapping children, that’s not what the system was intended to do. It was about helping people, bringing families together, going out and finding resources to help people if they have issues that prevent them from being healthy parents," Dumas said.
"There’s people from all the communities in the province who are in the system, and unfortunately it turned into a Hotel California for them: you can never leave."
Ottawa provided $560,000 in the past two fiscal years to the AMC to hold regional discussions on First Nations and with the province about changes communities would like to see made to First Nations child and family service systems, a process that wrapped up with a report on June 30.
"The funding was for the Keewaywin Engagement, an eight-month-project that ran from November 2016 to June 30, 2017 (and) through it, AMC engaged with First Nations grassroots citizens on their dreams for reform of the federal First Nations child and family services program," Dumas later said in a Dec. 12 letter to the Free Press.
The Keewaywin Engagement Manitoba First Nations Child and Family Services Reform covered key findings, including calls to restore traditional cultural practices, establish customary care/kinship care in all 63 Manitoba First Nations and to recognize First Nations' inherent jurisdiction over the well-being of their families and children.
Child welfare falls under provincial jurisdiction, but Aboriginal Justice Inquiry recommendations nearly two decades ago called for reforms that created Indigenous child-welfare agencies.
Those agencies were intended to make room for Indigenous-led reforms and lead to an Indigenous child-welfare system, Dumas said; instead, the number of children removed from families soared along with spending to licence and support foster parents to care for them.
"First Nations have the inherent jurisdiction to look after our children and families," Dumas stated in the letter. "That was the understanding when First Nations and the province of Manitoba, through the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry — Child Welfare Initiative, created the current system that temporarily 'borrowed' provincial legislation," Dumas said in his letter.
The job now is to address First Nations’ jurisdiction over their own children and to hold the province accountable in the way child welfare is run, he said.
The funding follows on the heels of an $800,000 envelope Ottawa handed the AMC in October to expand its family advocacy office and come up with community solutions to address the high number of seizures of Indigenous children.
Note: This story as initially published contained several errors, including erroneously making a link between federal funding to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and provincial reforms to child welfare. In fact, the agreement between Ottawa and the AMC was to support the inherent jurisdiction First Nations have over child and family services. At no point was the funding meant to facilitate talks with the province, nor to suggest that the province would share jurisdiction for child welfare with First Nations. The story has been updated to correct these errors.
Updated on Thursday, December 14, 2017 at 3:06 PM CST: Corrects errors outlined above.