Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/3/2018 (840 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba Indigenous leaders led a traditional ceremony Monday to thank a visiting Maori delegation for the gift of a traditional model of child welfare to reunite fractured Aboriginal families.
Winnipeg-based social service agency Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre played host to the ceremony and invited government funders and private sponsors — along with leaders from the Manitoba Metis Federation, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and Southern Chiefs’ Organization — to greet the New Zealand delegation.
MKO Grand Chief Sheila North welcomed the four Maori child-welfare leaders in Cree and English.
"Thank you for coming here to hear the plight of our people, and also Ma Mawi and everyone for hosting them. It’s a great pleasure to welcome you here on behalf of the Cree, Dene communities," North said.
Jests and jokes broke up the solemn nature of the ceremony that included Maori songs, an Ojibway honour song and gift presentations. The event lasted well into the afternoon. Staff handed out chilled bottles of water to keep the audience hydrated.
As a northern leader, North told the Maori group she represented 72,000 Indigenous people in Manitoba.
"Oh, and all the Cree people here today, they’re the pretty people," the Cree grand chief added, to guffaws from the audience of Ojibway, Cree and non-Indigenous guests.
"I’m just so happy I didn’t get on a plane today to go to Ottawa," said Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran, when it was her turn to speak.
Probably the most solemn part was the Maori presentation.
The delegation of Indigenous New Zealanders gave out dozens of traditional gifts, all cultural symbols steeped in meaning. People were called forward one by one, by name. From recognized politicians to anonymous researchers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.
"Can I just remind the people, this isn’t just about our children," Waitomo Papakainga chief executive officer Katie Murray said. "The institution we should be working hard to solidify is family. Children belong to family. They’re not born with a bank account. They aren’t born with Indigenous cultural knowledge.
"When we work with our communities, we must not lose sight of the fact that our children need an identity. They must know who they are, where they come from and they need to know this land they stand on is theirs."
The statement drew an audible, audience-wide murmur of agreement.
The Ma Mawi agency adapted the New Zealand-based Waitomo Papakainga family reunification program as a key component two years ago. As it progresses, Ma Mawi’s focus is to expand the seeds of its existing Indigenous-led child-welfare program and oversee the shift of responsibility for decision making to families and their communities.
With nearly 11,000 children in the Child and Family Services system, and nearly 90 per cent of them Indigenous, Manitoba has the highest rate of apprehension among the provinces — and at a half-billion dollars a year to keep youth in foster care, some of the highest costs in the country.
Manitoba introduced legislation last week that reinforces the role of family and community-focused Indigenous models of child welfare. Bill 18 would recognize the concept of custom care, which involves families and Indigenous communities from Métis villages to First Nations in decisions about what happens to children in care.
In the lead-up to the proposed legislative reforms, the Manitoba government last fall recognized the Maori child-welfare model used by Ma Mawi.
With $2.5 million in funding support from the Winnipeg Foundation, and the federal and the provincial levels of government, the Ma Mawi family conference program is now setting in place steps to expand and return 1,200 children to their families, reducing the number in the province’s child-welfare system.
David Newman, a Winnipeg lawyer whose work with Rotary International focuses on that service club’s Indigenous relations programs, said Monday that Indigenous knowledge isn’t just important for Indigenous people. It could be a key to survival for wider society, too.
"This is the way humans can become human again, through the decolonization process," he said.
Updated on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 at 8:49 AM CDT: Corrects headline
10:06 PM: corrects funding info
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.