Important for Indigenous communities to get control over child welfare systems: Grand Chief 

By Dave Baxter

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The province has introduced new proposed amendments to the Child and Family Services (CFS) Act that they say will make it easier for CFS agencies and systems to be transitioned to being controlled by Indigenous-run organizations and governing bodies.

“Our government is committed to transforming the child welfare system in the spirit of reconciliation, by supporting Indigenous jurisdiction for child and family services,” Families Minister Rochelle Squires said in a Tuesday news release, after introducing the proposed amendments.

“These amendments will support ongoing province-wide child and family service coordination, and ensure the continued safety of children.”

The new legislation would see the province share information held by CFS agencies with Indigenous governments and service providers, including details about children and families who are receiving services, as well as access to the child abuse registry, and medical information.

It would also see the transfer of the supervision of care and guardianship of children in care to Indigenous service providers.

Bill C-92, a federal law that was passed in 2019, gives First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities in Canada the authority to take over child welfare systems, but under current laws in Manitoba, those communities would still need to pursue legal action in order to obtain records and information regarding children.

Squires said the new amendments would now make it easier for those communities, agencies and Indigenous governing bodies to get access to that information.

“Information sharing will be vital for ensuring coordination between existing CFS agencies and those established under Indigenous laws, in the best interests of those children,” she said.

Earlier this year, Peguis First Nation became the first Indigenous community in Manitoba to take back child welfare responsibilities, and according to the province, there are 17 Indigenous communities currently pursuing coordination agreements with the provincial and federal governments, regarding child welfare systems.

According to information released by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, about 90% of the approximately 12,000 youth currently in care in Manitoba are Indigenous.

While speaking in Winnipeg back in March at the Empowering Our Children assembly, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), Grand Chief Garrison Settee said it was important for Indigenous communities to get control over their child welfare systems, because if they don’t it will ultimately cause harm to Indigenous children in care.

“It’s all about the children,” Settee said at the March event.

“What kind of future will they have? What kind of path are we going to pave for them?

“First Nations now have the opportunity to take back their children from governments, from legislation, from policy, and from further harm and abuse. The day is coming my brothers and my sisters when our children will no longer be taken away from First Nations and given to different families that do not know our culture or language.”

Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.


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