Saskatchewan government, Saskatoon Tribal Council face off in court over child welfare jurisdiction

Saskatchewan wants to take back responsibility for kids in care, something the tribal council says infringes on Indigenous sovereignty

Jaydon Flett
APTN National News
Leaders from the seven Saskatoon Tribal Council First Nations are fighting the province of Saskatchewan over the jurisdiction child welfare cases.

They were joined by over 100 supporters and community members in traditional regalia in Regina court Tuesday. The high interest in the case forced media to be seated in the jury booth.

Media interest was piqued earlier this month when the province announced they would be terminating the 1996 Bilateral Accord, which was entered into with the Ministry of Social Services through the Indian Child Welfare and Family Support Act (ICWFSA). The Act outlines a general standard for First Nations child welfare agencies in the province, as well as a provision allowing individual agencies to develop their own standards and practices.

The 1996 Bilateral Accord was negotiated between the province and First Nations to provide “joint protective mechanisms”.

“The bilateral agreement we signed declared us equal partners in caring for our children,” said Chief Felix Thomas. “Our sovereign rights as nations are not being honoured.”

Those agreements have been terminated by the province because of the STC’s refusal to hand over child welfare case files. The Social Services ministry filed an application in court to assume jurisdiction of child welfare cases on STC member reserves.

There are reportedly 101 children in care living on STC member reserves. The province holds the files and information for 34 of those children, whereas the STC refuses to hand over files for the other 67 children. The STC believes that the province’s objective is “subordination of First Nations people to policies that undermine inherent treaty rights.”

Thomas brought attention to the ‘irreparable harm’ caused by the Sixties Scoop and residential school system.  “We don’t want to go down that road anymore,” he said.

The tribal council said it is willing to share data with the province, providing that the it respects the sovereignty of STC First Nations.

The judge is expected to make her decision in the coming weeks.

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