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

Town of Ponoka to hand over fire services to county

Council voted unanimously to have the county take over May 1. County meets Thursday morning

Ponoka’s bull rider Zane Lambert takes Red Deer

Lambert kicked off the CPRA 2018 season with two solid rides

Library funding increase request approved by Ponoka County

County agrees to the $60,000 request, up from $45,000 from the previous year

Ponoka town council deemed not liable by judge

Town deemed to be in compliance with borrowing bylaw requirements

PHOTOS: Family Day in Ponoka

Ponoka and area families took in the many fun events on Family Day

WATCH: Ponoka Warriors volleyball host largest ever Family Day tournament

Five divisions, 32 teams participate in 12th annual Family Day tournament

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Alberta takes out full-page ads in B.C. over strained relationship

It’s the latest move between the two provinces over progress on Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Toddler swept away in Ontario floods

Toddler missing as flooding forces thousands from their homes in Ontario

Greyhound cleared to end routes in northern B.C., Vancouver Island

Company says nine routes have dropped 30% in ridership in last five years

BC Wine Institute to take legal action against Alberta

The BC Wine Institute to seek injunction to protect B.C. wineries from Alberta wine ban

Ponoka Stampeders out after opening round loss

Two bad Stamps’ starts gives Blackfalds series victory in playoff series

Trudeau reiterates denial of Sikh separatists in cabinet, condemns extremism

“We will always stand against violent extremism, but we understand that diversity of views is one of the great strengths of Canada.”

Canada wins gold in men’s ski cross

Leman earns redemption with ski cross gold; Homan out early

Most Read