An Indigenous couple in B.C. is living the nightmare all new parents fear – keeping their newborn out of the child welfare system.
“It’s quite devastating,” said Cora Morgan, the First Nations Family Advocate with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC).
“The most violent act you can commit against a mother is to steal their baby.”
APTN News has been reporting all week on the hospital or birth alert involving Baby H and the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Kamloops.
The stories have sparked strong reaction – even from Morgan.
“These babies go into foster homes and shelters causing emotional damage,” she said Thursday.
“There can’t be any nurturing when children are ripped away.”
Governments and child welfare agencies say alerts are used by health professionals and social workers to flag at-risk babies especially when parents are under age or have themselves been in care.
But the damage forced separation inflicts on parents, children and their wider communities is becoming better known.
Two major Canadian reports identify such alerts as ‘genocide’ and ‘violence’.
Both the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada called for major change.
“End the practice of targeting and apprehending infants from Indigenous mothers right after they give birth,” said the MMIWG inquiry in its 231 Calls for Justice released June 3.
“Indigenous peoples should not be subjected to any act of genocide or violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group,” added the TRC in its June 2015 release of 94 Calls to Action.
“Indigenous peoples have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.”
Mi’kmaw lawyer Pam Palmater said evidence against the birth-alert system is piling up.
“What happened in B.C. is a prime example of – how can a baby be endangered in the first 90 minutes after a mother has given birth? Unless she was physically assaulting the baby – and that wasn’t the case here – there’s simply no justification for this.”
Palmater called bedside apprehensions “race-based genocide” against Indigenous women.
“We all know that moms who have had their children stolen from them – especially Indigenous moms – are more likely to suffer from suicide, heart attack, stroke, depression, anxiety, addictions, homelessness,” she said in an interview.
The TRC suggested parents-to-be receive prenatal services and preventive care to learn how to safely care for their children.
First Nations Family Advocate Cora Morgan (left) testified against birth alerts at the MMIWG inquiry. (APTN News)
Instead, Morgan said many experience “impending doom” as they give birth.
Manitoba has the highest per capita rate of children in care and apprehends about one newborn a day.
And the Saskatchewan government – only days after the MMIWG inquiry released its final report – confirmed it would continue to track or seize at-risk babies.
Palmater said that’s wrong.
“The report said these apprehensions effectively erases the possibility that Indigenous women can create the relationships and care necessary for children, especially if they have been prevented from doing so in the past through forced separation,” she said.
“We’re not talking about historic events, we’re talking about the crisis that’s going on now.”
With files from Dennis Ward and Justin Brake