Canada will begin work with First Nations, Inuit and Métis to develop new child welfare legislation that Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott hopes will end the “scooping” of Indigenous children from their families.
At an announcement on Parliament Hill Friday morning Philpott said the federal government will begin co-developing new legislation to address what it and others have called a “humanitarian crisis” in Canada.
Upward of 40,000 Indigenous children are in state care in Canada – more than half of all children in care across the country. At the same time, Indigenous children make up just 7.7 per cent of the child population in Canada.
“Every day in this country, on our watch, someone walks into a home, or perhaps a hospital room, where a First Nations or Inuit or Metis mother has given birth, and that baby, toddler or child is taken away from their family,” Philpott said in her opening remarks during the announcement.
“They are taken away for the most part on the basis of something that is euphemistically called neglect, but in truth they are taken for reasons of economic poverty. Inadequate housing. Unresolved health issues,” she continued.
“This is our modern day variation on the legacy of residential schools.”
She said the new legislation “marks a turning point” for Canada and Indigenous peoples.
“For a century now, based on discriminatory policies of government, we have been taking children away from their families. It started with residential schools, it continued in the Sixties Scoop, and still today children are being taken from their families.
“This legislation marks a turning point to say no more — no more scooping children, no more ripping apart families, no more lost children who don’t know their language, their culture, their lineage.”
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) President Natan Obed, Métis National Council President Clément Chartier and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde all welcomed the announcement.
“It’s a new chapter for our children and families, a new chapter where we write the laws and policies that apply to our children,” Bellegarde said.
“I look forward to action on closing the gap for First Nations children, to working towards systems that focuses on prevention as opposed to apprehension, working towards a system that respects First Nations language, laws and cultures.”
Obed said the announcement marked “an immensely proud moment” for him as a political leader.
“From the time that there has been Canada and the assertion of control over Inuit, there has been a disrespect for Inuit children’s rights,” he said.
“This is ending. This is now going to be replaced with specific legislation that ensures that Inuit children and their rights are upheld.”
“There has been a disrespect for Inuit children’s rights” by Canada, ITK President Natan Obed said Friday. “This is ending.” Justin Brake/APTN News.
Obed added the legislative changes aren’t just owed to Indigenous peoples and children, but also “an obligation that Canada has to itself.
“It is a measuring stick on how Canada is as a Nation within the world,” he said.
Chartier said the coming legislation, which will be introduced in early 2019, “is big,” and will benefit his people the most.
“For well over 100 years we have been ignored and marginalized, our rights repressed, our rights denied, our existence as a Nation of people denied,” he said.
Chartier said he would like to see this legislation ushered in alongside the Indigenous rights framework the government is also working on in order to expedite the full recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights belonging to Métis people.
Philpott said she has met with provincial and territorial Indigenous Relations or child and family services ministers, and that the provinces “are in various states of enthusiasm about what this will look like.
“But I think there is overall a very positive spirit of recognizing the challenge that is there and a desire to do something different.”
Philpott said most provinces have recently undertaken reviews of their own legislation and policies on Indigenous child welfare, and that she hopes the feds and Indigenous leaders can work with the provinces “to recognize the different circumstances” that exist in each jurisdiction.
A news release from the government Friday morning explained the legislation is the result of 65 consultations with upward of 2,000 individuals from Indigenous governments, organizations, and grassroots groups, totalling nearly 2,000 individuals.
Métis National Council President Clément Chartier said he would like to see the legislation developed and implemented quickly for the benefit of his people. Justin Brake/APTN News.
“The message to the government was that legislation could help to protect the best interests of the child,” the release says, adding the approach to developing the legislation will be “broad-based” and “inclusive of all Indigenous peoples while respecting a distinctions-based approach.”
The legislation will “affirm inherent Aboriginal and Treaty rights as well as affirm principles consistent with the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” the release says.
The TRC’s fourth call to action compels the federal government “to enact Aboriginal child-welfare legislation that establishes national standards for Aboriginal child apprehension and custody cases.”
Canada was also compelled by a 2016 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that the government’s First Nations Child and Family Services Program was discriminatory.
Earlier this year an emergency meeting on child welfare was held with representatives from Indigenous governments and organizations, and grassroots people, from which Canada announced a plan that included the legislation.
“A pillar of the legislation will be the right to self-determination of Indigenous peoples to freely determine their laws, policies and practices in relation to Indigenous child and family services,” Friday’s news release reads.