By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
January marked the third anniversary of a law that finally gave Indigenous communities the rights to establish their own child and family-safety agencies in a bid to ensure Indigenous children removed from their homes could still be raised in a culturally appropriate setting.
The law is officially called Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis children, youth and families — and was co-developed with Indigenous partners, received Royal Assent in 2019, and became law in January 2020.
In Kahnawake, Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) executive director Derek Montour said his organization is already working on a law of its own for the community.
“We are definitely moving in that direction,” he said. “We will be, for sure. We just want to be able to take care of a few things internally first, and we are participating in the appeals process for the class-action lawsuit, so that’ll take priority for now. Obviously, in Kahnawake, the Community Decision Making Process (CDMP) will also be involved, but that’s where we’d like to go.”
The law, Montour said, is a godsend because of the inter-generational trauma many Indigenous families have suffered because of the removal of children from their homes and placed into culturally inappropriate non-Indigenous homes.
“Starting in the 60s, when the Indian Act was changed and the provinces took over jurisdiction of family services, First Nations were not able to enact any level of self-determination and that’s what these communities are looking for. The new law will allow First Nations to create their own path for their children,” he said.
Federal Indigenous Services minister Patty Hajdu said the consistent over-representation of Indigenous children in the child-welfare system continues to be a national tragedy.
“The overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in the child welfare system is abhorrent and continues the tragic legacy of separating individuals from their families, language, communities, and culture,” she said. “This law is one of a number of critical tools needed to end this injustice and ensure children and families stay together, with care and support rightfully led by Indigenous leadership.”
Hajdu added the law allows Indigenous communities a certain level of self-determination they never had before.
“The law affirms the right of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis to assert and exercise their jurisdiction over Indigenous child and family services with their own laws and regulations,” she said.
“The law establishes national standards and principles, and shifts funding and resources toward prevention and reunification efforts rather than removal from home and community.”
Two ententes have already been signed, in the Cowessess First Nation and Wabaseemoong Independent Nations, and Indigenous Services Canada has received 64 notices and requests from First Nations to create their own agencies.
Additionally, the Louis Bull First Nation signed an agreement with the federal government last week that will allow them to be the third such First Nation with its own child-welfare system.
The government has put up $115 million in capacity building funding to more than 230 Indigenous governing bodies who are preparing to start coordination agreement discussions.
Marc Lalonde is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with IORI:WASE, a weekly newspaper based at Kahnawake, QC. The LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.