A mother from Mistawasis Nêhiyawk in Saskatchewan who lost her ten year old son to the child welfare system while battling an addiction has him back.
After losing her son in July 2020, the mother, who can’t be named, entered treatment and has been clean and sober since.
With the help of her community her son was returned after being moved off reserve to a foster home by the Ministry of Social Services (MSS).
The community arranged for a welcome home ceremony for the boy to help his spirit.
The mother, who continues to work on her sobriety, says she has a message for parents who are currently struggling with addictions.
“To all the moms and the dads that are sitting there under the influence of alcohol or drugs, that’s not who you are, that’s just something you do,” she says. “Don’t let the ministry get to your children. Don’t give up.”
Deanna Ledoux, who was asked by Chief Daryl Watson to be the boy’s advocate, says it’s important to keep kids in care on reserve and she was happy to help bring him home to his mom.
“Every chief has the right to appoint either a band designate or an advocate and in this case the family went to the chief with concerns regarding the file and how it was being handled and they asked for help and how he helped them was by appointing me,” says Ledoux.
The MSS has been trying to work with First Nations to keep children on reserve, but many still are in child welfare custody in non-Indigenous homes and communities.
Mistawasis Nêhiyawak, located an hour and a half north of Saskatoon, says it plans to fix that for their own children at least by using Bill C-92.
The law that was passed in 2019 by the federal government aims to reduce the number of youth in care and enables First Nations to create their own welfare systems to bring and keep their youth home.
Watson says the First Nation is working on their legislation under Bill C-92 to make sure if children need to be apprehended that they will be in care of the community and it will be based on community standards not provincial or federal legislation.
In this case, on-reserve foster families were not utilized and the boy was placed in two different group homes off reserve.
Ledoux says she’s not sure how this boy was moved off the reserve, but says it’s something that shouldn’t happen in the future.
“In regards to this particular file I was confused as to why the province or MSS had the file when there is an agency designated for this nation and the chiefs issue was that the boy was removed from the nation,” she says.
She adds that when First Nations regain jurisdiction of child welfare matters, it will stop the separation of children from their homes and communities. This community hopes to take that power back soon.
“They are not serving our children they need to be reviewed with the new child welfare system with nations taking over their own agencies and taking their children back I think that will make a difference but that doesn’t undo the damage that has been done to generations of children that have grown up in care,” says Ledoux.
The mother says she’s happy to have her son back home.
“I think he was more damaged in the ministry process than he was in the drug addiction process,” says the mother.
Watson adds that, “Mistawasis Nêhiyawak did not consent to anyone or to the ministry of social services to unilaterally remove the boy from his community,” he says. “Currently Mistawasis Nehiyawak has a shared delegation agreement with the Saskatoon Tribal Council and Ministry of Social Services.
“Without the consent of the Nation the boy was moved to a safe home run by Mistawasis Nêhiyawak, the Saskatoon Tribal Council and Ministry of Social Services. Then the boy was moved to another group home farther from the community. Finally after the appointment of a First Nations advocate and a meeting with MMS a meeting was established and a few days after that he was returned to the community.”