A child advocate who is testifying before Canada’s Senate says the best interest of the child must be kept in mind before Bill C-92, the proposed Indigenous child welfare law, is passed.
Ardith Walkem of the Nlaka’Paumux Nation Tribal Council said on Thursday, that the meaning of the best interest of the child has historically resulted in situations like the Sixties Scoop.
“In fact, we know, we know when we look at the kids who were the subject of the 60s, 70s, 80s, of that on-going scoop,” said Walkem.
“We see what the impact has been for them. They’re the result of the operational best interest of the child.”
Walkem wants to see the legislation re-define the best interest of the child to include cultural paramountcy.
“It is in their best interest to remain connected to their Indigenous cultures, communities and territory. And give very clear direction that it’s to be interpreted and defined according to their own indigenous people’s values and traditions,” she said.
She says if cultural considerations aren’t included in the definition that we will see former child welfare youth enter into the correctional system.
“If we don’t acknowledge and keep children connected to their culture, the impact of the child welfare system isn’t protection. In fact, if we can’t keep kids protected, we’re going to see them later in the criminal justice system,” said Walkem.
Bill C-92, the Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, Youth and Families, is currently being studied in Senate.
The proposed legislation re-imagines control over Indigenous youth in the child welfare system.
Indigenous children under the age of 14 make up 52 per cent of those in the system, while only making up seven per cent of all children under 14 in Canada.
These children are predominantly under the jurisdiction of their respective provincial child welfare systems.
That could change if C-92 receives royal assent and control is transitioned over to Indigenous communities.
The act, now in senate, states the best interest of the child will be primary.
Bill C-92 is currently in second reading in the House of Commons.
The Senate must pass the bill before the summer break or it will not be passed into law.