Poverty not a good reason to take Indigenous kids from parents: Bennett

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott says new money coming to keep kids with their families

Exactly two years after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal said Canada is discriminating against Indigenous kids with chronic underfunding of child welfare services on reserve, the federal government says it’s not going to happen anymore on its watch.

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott says there will be new money in the coming budget to prevent kids from being taken from their families. Carolyn Bennett, the minister responsible for Crown-Indigenous relations, insists poverty is going to stop being used as an excuse to rip families apart.

They’re saying all the right things and seem sincere, chiefs and child welfare experts say.

But Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society — which brought that complaint more than a decade ago — is only skeptically hopeful.

“These meetings, they can be positive but they can also be an official procedure to mask action,” she said. “What I’m really looking for is real change on the level of kids.”

As the two-day emergency meeting on Indigenous child welfare drew to a close in Ottawa on Friday, 400 federal and provincial politicians, Indigenous leaders, social workers and former foster kids scattered back across the nation without any specific next steps planned.

They return to places like Manitoba, where First Nations babies are routinely apprehended at birth by child welfare workers who deem the baby’s mother unfit to parent. They return to Alberta, where three in every four children in care are Indigenous, seven times their representation in the population.

“Our children have become an industry,” said Wilton Littlechild, former commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The federal government made a six-point pledge to act, including implementing the human rights tribunal’s orders, collecting better data and moving to give jurisdiction over child welfare to individual First Nations. But the provincial governments didn’t sign on to it at the meeting.

Michael Coteau, minister of children and youth services for Ontario, said this is the start of a long journey and they have to get it “perfectly right.”

“I’m completely fine if it takes a little more time that sets the tone that’s reflective of all of our partners,” he said, without addressing what Ontario takes issue with in Ottawa’s plan.

Blackstock has on her desk a pile of inquiry reports, recommendations, court rulings, and the human rights tribunal ruling that measures almost a foot high and the answers, she says, are written into each one.

Even back in 1967, the calls were being made to shift child welfare on reserves to a prevention-based model where families get help before their kids have to be removed from the home. Attempts have been made, even as recently as 2007, when the former Conservative government began doling out extra cash targeting prevention in on-reserve child welfare agencies.

Still, the number of kids in care went up. In Manitoba in the last decade the number of children in care rose 85 per cent and the number of days kids spend in care went up 73 per cent. Nine in every 10 of those children are Indigenous, despite an additional $35 million a year from Ottawa to stop that from happening.

A recent report suggests $105 million more a year is needed in Manitoba alone to bridge the gap. Philpott has promised more money in the next federal budget but hasn’t said what the figure will be.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde urged First Nations not to wait for Ottawa to grant jurisdiction and to start passing bylaws and taking control on their own.

But it’s not that simple, says Blackstock. Ottawa’s policies have largely meant any First Nation that wants funding has to follow provincial child welfare laws. Those laws are almost always lacking a cultural appreciation for First Nations traditions and, Bennett says, “let’s just be real about the racism and discrimination that is going on in these decisions that are being taken and it just has to stop.”

Provincial and federal governments have to start acknowledging and accepting Indigenous laws and traditions, Littlechild says. He said the first case he ever argued as a lawyer was a child welfare case where child services took away a child because her mother wanted her grandmother to take over her care. It was the policy to apprehend a kid if a parent said they couldn’t do it on their own, said Littlechild. It was another child lost to the system.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Castlegar bridge designed by architect of collapsed Italian bridge

Riccardo Morandi designed the Kinnaird Bridge, which is part of Highway 3.

UPDATE: Fire forces closures and delays on Highway 3 at Kootenay Pass

Motorists should detour using Kootenay Lake ferry

Bisaro Anima cavers return from expedition

22 cavers spent a week logging 150 surface sinks, rifts and holes, and mapped 1km of new passages

Evacuation alert issued for City of Kimberley

Three hours after an evacuation order was issued for the St. Mary Valley, an evacuation alert was issued for the nearby community of Kimberley.

Show N’ Shine attracts bumper entries

The 2018 Show N’ Shine attracted over 1100 people and 80 entries – the most in the event’s history

PHOTOS: B.C. city wakes up to darkness under wildfire smoke

The rest of the province also dealing with thick haze as smoky skies continue

Safeway union urgest rejection of mediator recommendations

Says mediator asks for too many concessions

Fire chases B.C. crews out of their own camp

Crews in Burns Lake had to leave after a wildfire reportedly overtook their sleeping quarters

To address peacock problem, B.C. city moves ahead on trapping plan

Surrey’s new bylaw focuses on ensuring people no longer feed the birds, ahead of relocation

Hospitals to see ‘delays’ in care after losing Saudi students, health group says

About 1,000 Saudi residents called back to kingdom after suspending diplomatic relations with Canada

Bernier diatribe against ‘extreme multiculturalism’ boosts Liberal coffers

Party spokesperson Braeden Caley says online donations doubled, social media engagement quadrupled

‘Disjointed’ system hinders British Columbia First Nations in wildfire fight

More than 550 wildfires were burning in B.C. and crews were bracing for wind and dry lightning

Federal government announces over $115 million to Royal Canadian Navy

Defence Minister Harjit S. Sajjan was at Victoria’s CFB Esquimalt to announce missile system upgrades

RCMP nab prolific car thief after month-long, B.C.-wide search

A province-wide warrant was issued for Brian Robert Stephan in June for a litany of offences

Most Read