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Indigenous control a myth

Three agencies overseen by appointed administrators

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/12/2015 (1284 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Devolution has been touted as the model for Manitoba's child-welfare system -- the minister pledged last week new legislation to increase aboriginal control over their children -- but the reality in the depths of the system is far different.

The Free Press has learned three First Nations agencies -- serving 15 bands and 2,150 kids -- are being overseen by appointed administrators instead of indigenous leaders, and have been, in two cases, for years.

In fact, the foundation of devolution, first laid 12 years ago as the only way to strengthen child welfare, has crumbled.

Aboriginal leaders say indigenous control of child welfare is a mirage, little more than "a white system" micromanaged by the Family Services ministry, strangled by rules most band-based agencies can never meet and still intent on taking children out of First Nations families.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/12/2015 (1284 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Devolution has been touted as the model for Manitoba's child-welfare system — the minister pledged last week new legislation to increase aboriginal control over their children — but the reality in the depths of the system is far different.

The Free Press has learned three First Nations agencies — serving 15 bands and 2,150 kids — are being overseen by appointed administrators instead of indigenous leaders, and have been, in two cases, for years.

Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Derek Nepinak

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Derek Nepinak

In fact, the foundation of devolution, first laid 12 years ago as the only way to strengthen child welfare, has crumbled.

Aboriginal leaders say indigenous control of child welfare is a mirage, little more than "a white system" micromanaged by the Family Services ministry, strangled by rules most band-based agencies can never meet and still intent on taking children out of First Nations families.

"Devolution has been dead in the water for at least three years," Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said recently.

'Devolution has been dead in the water for at least three years'— Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak (right)

While fallout from the slaying of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, the renewed ban on children being placed in hotels and the overhaul recommended by the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry continue to dominate headlines, First Nations control over child welfare has quietly eroded in recent years.

Sagkeeng First Nation's agency was placed under administration in June 2014 at the request of the chief and council, who raised concerns about conflict between the agency's board and its executive director and the board's pattern of meddling in day-to-day operations.

Southeast Child and Family Services has been in "administration" for nearly eight years. A damning investigation found financial mismanagement and shoddy oversight by the board, which was disbanded. A senior official was appointed by the Southern Authority to administer the agency instead.

Anishinaabe Child and Family Services has also been in administration for about six years.

In addition, the Northern and Southern authorities tasked with overseeing the province's 17 First Nations agencies are still under provincial control.

The Southern Authority has been without a First Nations board for three years following a dispute over whether chiefs ought to serve on the authority's board.

The Northern Authority was placed in administration a year ago, after the province found it was unable to ensure standards were being followed and kids in care were being properly tracked.

Both authorities are overseen by a provincial appointee, lawyer Issie Frost, and are expected to emerge from administration soon.

Taken together, five First Nations agencies and authorities lack indigenous boards, part of significant turmoil at the senior levels of child welfare in recent years.

That's despite the process of devolution, which was meant to return control of child welfare to First Nations, in part by allowing front-line agencies and authorities to be governed by indigenous people, including chiefs and councillors from the bands getting the service.

One senior government source says the province's job is to keep children safe, and First Nations-run agencies and authorities haven't been able to do that.

But Bobbi Pompana, CEO of the Southern Authority, said she expects her authority to be out of administration any day now.

She said the Sagkeeng and Southeast agencies could soon have new boards in place, ending their state of limbo as early as next month.

Three of Sagkeeng's senior staff are on paid leave pending the outcome of a review of the agency launched a few months ago. Neither Pompana nor Sagkeeng Chief Derrick Henderson would say what prompted the dismantling of the board or the review.

"We are moving forward," said Henderson. "We are working hard to get out of (administration)."

Pompana said when she became CEO of the Southern Authority last year, a top task was to figure out why some agencies had lingered so long in administration, including the Anishinaabe Child and Family Services Agency, which serves several bands in the Interlake and has been without a board for about six years.

"They really should be running their own show," Pompana said.

She said there are good reasons for agencies to come into administration in order for the Southern Authority to work with the bands to get the agency back on its feet. In Anishinaabe's case, several of the bands served by the agency were flooded in 2011. Their members and their band council were displaced to Winnipeg. Until those bands regain stability, Pompana said it makes sense for the authority to help manage the agency.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Friday, December 11, 2015 at 6:50 AM CST: Replaces photo

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