Under an agreement with the federal government, the Canadian indigenous organisation that reported last month the discovery of an estimated 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school said on Tuesday that it will assume responsibility of its own child welfare services.
The accord, unveiled at an event in the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan attended by Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, marks the first time in 70 years the community will have control over child and family services among its members.
It is the first such agreement under a 2019 law meant to give indigenous groups more control over child welfare in their communities and reduce the overrepresentation of indigenous children in foster care. Cowessess First Nation passed an act intended to do that in March 2020.
“Our goal is one day there will be no children in care,” Delorme told the event, adding: “We have a lot of work to do.”
Trudeau stated that his administration is negotiating similar deals with other First Nations. Officials from the federal government did not clarify whether Ottawa will continue to support the First Nations’ child and family services expenditures in the future.
For decades, Canada has disproportionately taken indigenous children from their families and placed them in foster care, often because services they required on reservations were underfunded.
According to a 2018 study, 80 percent of children in foster care in Saskatchewan are Indigenous.
Canada is reeling from the discoveries of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools, many of them believed to be children. They are a grim reminder of the abuses indigenous communities have suffered for generations and their fight for justice.
For 165 years, and until 1996, Canada’s residential school system took children from their families and sent them to boarding institutions where they were starved, tortured, and sexually assaulted in what the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission dubbed “cultural genocide” in 2015.
Last month, the federal government was in court challenging a Human Rights Tribunal judgement that would have required Ottawa to pay children and families who had been damaged by what the government concedes is a discriminatory child and family services system. A decision by a federal court is pending.
According to Cindy Blackstock, a member of Gitxsan First Nation and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which is suing the government over the system, Tuesday’s announcement may not improve things for Cowessess children unless the circumstances of their families’ lives change as well.
She stated that this would necessitate increased financing for programmes such as housing.
“We know from research that the closer the control for children’s services is to the First Nation, the better the results for children. So that’s a plus “She stated.