The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) held a news conference in Saskatoon Friday announcing that it is seeking $1.8 billion over five years from the federal government to help First Nations in Saskatchewan take over control of the child welfare system.
On Jan. 1, the federal government’s child welfare legislation called An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families (Bill C-92) became law.
It promises a complete overhaul of the system in Canada including handing over the child welfare system to communities across the country.
But that catch is Canada hasn’t promised any money to anyone to put a system in place.
“The jurisdiction portion, item is critical in the sense that our children must be raised in our culture and language system in our First Nation communities,” said Bobby Cameron, chief of the FSIN. “Our children are looking out the window waiting for us to bring them home, and we as First Nation leaders and grand parents will do our best to bring them home.”
Along with not having any money in place to support the transition, the federal government doesn’t have a set plan ready to hand off responsibility for child welfare to First Nation, Metis and Inuit communities either. Rather, it has to negotiate with each community and it’s not clear how that’s going to happen.
Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller said previously that “until Indigenous laws are in place – services to Indigenous children will continue as before. However, every Indigenous child and family services provider will have to apply the basic principles set out in the Act.”
“Change will not come overnight,” Miller stated. “The only way to achieve this is to continue to work with our partners through this transition period to make sure the law works for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, and most importantly, for their children.”
At the moment, the provinces still have control over First Nations child welfare on reserve but they have to abide by the new national principles.
And leaders within the FSIN have an issue with that.
Calvin Straightnose, chief of the Keeseekoose First Nation located 360 km east of Saskatoon, made a point at the news conference to highlight his orange t-shirt and the every child matters message that it carries.
“The provinces came after the treaties were signed so to be putting the full authority in the province’s hands don’t sit well with me,” Straightnose said. “It’s like residential school, nothing has changed in a hundred years, we’re still being rounded up like animals… that has to change, it’s 2020.
“When you’re taken from your mother when you’re two or three years old and you grow up in a white foster home what are you learning? Nothing. Nothing about our culture.”
Miller’s office said it looks forward to receiving the proposal.
“We will continue to work with First Nation, Inuit and Métis partners, as well as provincial and territorial governments, to enact the systemic change that is necessary in order to reform this broken system,” said Vanessa Adams, Miller’s press secretary in an emailed statement.
According to the government, First Nation, Metis and Inuit children make up to close to eight per cent of children under 15 years old in Canada but represent 52 per cent of children in care.
The FSIN said it plans on sending the proposal shortly.