'Historic' federal agreement will bring more accountability to Manitoba child welfare system: grand chief

'Historic' federal agreement will bring more accountability to Manitoba child welfare system: grand chief

Manitoba chiefs are encouraged by a meeting with the federal government Thursday that they say signals long-overdue change is coming to the province’s child and family welfare system.

“It was a very amazing experience, it was historic,” Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said over the phone from Ottawa.

Dumas, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, and Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott signed a memorandum of understanding the group says will lead to new “concrete outcomes” for First Nations involved in the Manitoba child welfare system.

“I believe there is the political will to support grassroots people and Indigenous people and the chiefs of Manitoba to truly start changing the child and family issue in a meaningful way,” the grand chief said.

“This work will also ensure that our collaborative efforts will result in fewer children in care, and more children reunited with their families and communities,” Philpott said in a statement.

Bennett said the agreement strengthens partnerships with Manitoba First Nations and supports the federal government’s commitment to a “nation-to-nation dialogue on child and family well-being.”

Most recent estimates suggest Manitoba has about 11,000 kids in care, roughly 90 per cent of whom are Indigenous, making it the province with the highest number of children in the system.

More accountability

Asked whether the agreement has any teeth and comes with federal resources attached, Dumas said “absolutely” but wouldn’t specify exactly what those resources are.

He wants Manitoba to adopt a model similar to some other provinces, which take federal child welfare transfers and set that money aside for children to claim when they age out of the system.

“There’s no accountability from the provincial system,” in Manitoba right now, Dumas said.

“They claim that they have the authority to do all these things. There’s no onus on them to provide information to the federal government, let alone to ourselves, on how our resources are being used.… That’s our children’s money.”

He said the pledge will ensure that Manitoba chiefs have more oversight in how federal funds flow from Ottawa to Manitoba child welfare agencies. That will ensure funds are targeted toward prevention strategies and go to communities that need them most, Dumas said.

“We will be holding people more accountable and we will have a say as to how our resources are provided to our communities,” Dumas said.

“We want jurisdiction over our children and we want to bring our children home.”

‘Bring our children home’ protest

Protesters gathered outside the Manitoba Legislature Wednesday under the banner of that very sentiment.

The Bring Our Children Home event equates the current state of Indigenous kids in care in Manitoba with the injustices of the residential school system and Sixties Scoop, an adoption campaign that saw 20,000 Indigenous kids taken from their homes. Most were placed with white families.

Dumas said Manitoba chiefs hoped to have a better working relationship with Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government when it was elected in 2016, but that hasn’t been the case. Instead, Dumas says the province has ignored the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ invitation to collaborate on legislative changes.

He worries that changes announced to guardianship rules in the child welfare system will create an incentive for apprehension and put more distance between government and First Nations.

Dumas said he supports those protesting and encouraged the province to take heed.

“It’s a signal.… When it falls onto deaf ears who have an obligation to listen, of course you’re going to have people who feel there’s no other alternative but to protest,” he said.

“I encourage [Families] Minister [Scott] Fielding and the premier to work with us in a meaningful way or we won’t be able to move forward in the way everyone would like.”

CBC News has asked Minister Fielding’s office for comment.

Published at Thu, 07 Dec 2017 15:59:05 -0500