Yesterday the federal government and Association of First Nations announced that they had signed an agreement to outline how it will fund an overhaul of the First Nations Child Welfare system (at the estimated cost of $3.5-billion). Bill C-92, an act intended “to affirm and recognize the jurisdiction of (First Nations, Inuit and Métis people) over (their) child and family services” was introduced as long ago as Feb. 2019, and critics say that yesterday’s announcement — and the bill as a whole — doesn’t present concrete, binding measures to remedy the situation. According to a CBC report (citing 2016 census data), Indigenous children make up seven per cent of Canada’s population but account for over half of the youth in foster care, and there are more Indigenous children in care now than there were during the residential-school era.
In Dec. 2019, the Quebec government launched a constitutional challenge to fight Bill C-92, saying the province should retain its jurisdiction over foster care. Given Legault’s stubbornness about this and acknowledging the existence of system discrimination, Native Women’s Shelter executive director Nakuset S doesn’t foresee change coming easily, and she’s been directly involved with trying to push it forward.
“I’m really proactive in talking to youth protection about these things,” says Nakuset S. “’When are you going to apply the recommendations? Do you need help with the recommendations? What can we do to help you with the recommendations?’”
In an interview on Tuesday, Nakuset expressed frustration over the fact that the recommendations that came out of the Viens Commission inquiry into the relationship between Indigenous people and Quebec public services haven’t been implemented either.
“With Bill C-92, we have an uphill battle. We have to get the Legault government on it, we have to get (child welfare organization) Batshaw to at least start looking at the Viens commission recommendations and start changing things.
She also noted that the degree of cultural insensitivity on the part of youth protection organizations can be shocking.
“The bullshit we have heard — oh my God, it will make you cry. We have a family care worker at the (Native Women’s) Shelter that helps every single woman that has a file with youth protection to explain to them what their rights are, to sit with them when a youth protection worker says, ‘It’s not culturally appropriate to eat Caribou for breakfast, you’re supposed to give them Fruit Loops.’ We have to be there for the women, we have to help them. A lot of the times when women lose their kids, they never get them back.”
As for what the Native Women’s Shelter is doing to address the issue of the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in foster care, they’re bringing child-centred social pediatrics organization Fondation Dr. Julien into a new 23-unit space for women with children that will start breaking ground in September. Women who fear losing their children will “have an army around them” made up of doctors and lawyers thanks to Fondation Dr. Julien. ■
Native Women’s Shelter website
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