‘Reconciliation is possible’: Cowessess First Nation Chief on child welfare agreement

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‘Reconciliation is possible’: Cowessess First Nation Chief on child welfare agreement
WATCH: Cowessess First Nation is the first Indigenous community in Canada to reassert its right to care for its children, a process years in the making – Jul 7, 2021

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said Tuesday’s signing of the coordination agreement under the Miyo Pimatisowin Act, respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, is a step forward in the reconciliation process.

The First Nation has been given full coast-to-coast jurisdiction over its children in care anywhere in Canada following the historic signing between Delorme, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.

The signing took place on the First Nation’s powwow grounds shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday. The coordination agreement is a transition plan to make sure the transfer of jurisdiction is professional and at the pace of Cowessess.

Read more: Cowessess First Nation becomes 1st to control its child welfare system. Here’s how it works

The government of Canada also announced an investment of $38.75 million over the next two years Tuesday aimed at providing support to the First Nation in the implementation of their child and family services system.

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Chief Red Bear Children’s Lodge is CFN’s child safety body, providing preventative and protective services to keep families together. In April, Delorme said the lodge, which is in operation, already has a waitlist.

“Today is an example of how reconciliation is possible in Canada. For over a year, over many long hours, Cowessess First Nation was empowered to exercise our full jurisdiction over our Nation’s children, youth, and families, to lead in creating the vision and design of a child welfare system that reflects our culture, values, and priorities, and to lead all discussions on the transition plan outlined in our Coordination Agreement,” Delorme said Tuesday.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau signs historic agreement as Cowessess First Nation becomes 1st to control its child welfare system'
Trudeau signs historic agreement as Cowessess First Nation becomes 1st to control its child welfare system

Child welfare legislation was passed by Cowessess in March 2020 under Canada’s landmark Bill C-92, which empowers Indigenous communities to reclaim jurisdiction.

According to Delorme, the jurisdiction of children in care was taken away from Cowessess First Nation in 1951. He previously estimated there were roughly 165 Cowessess children in government care.

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The Miyo Pimatisowin Act came into effect April 1.

“Our discussions weren’t always easy; turning the page on past injustices that we all inherited never is,” Delorme said. “But with Cowessess First Nation in the driver’s seat, supported by our federal and provincial partners who worked hard to enable our vision, today we stand ready to enter a new chapter of our history that will bring new support, hope, and opportunity to Cowessess First Nation children and youth.

“Our Agreement commits each government to their role in our healing journey and this new chapter, as one braid of sweetgrass.”

Read more: Trudeau, Moe visiting Cowessess First Nation to sign historic child welfare law

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he hopes the agreement signed on Tuesday will lead other First Nations to follow Cowessess’s path.

“By providing Cowessess First Nation with the jurisdiction and authority for child and family services, the children of Cowessess First Nation will have the opportunity to be raised in accordance with their own traditions and culture,” Moe said.

“This agreement will serve as a model for the rest of the country, and I commend Chief Delorme for his leadership in driving this initiative.”

Linda ManyGuns is the associate vice-president of Indigenization and decolonization at Mount Royal University and says First Nations having jurisdiction over child care is “absolutely” critical, because what may seem to work for non-Indigenous children in care doesn’t work for Indigenous children.

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Read more: More Indigenous family separations now than during residential schools, advocate says

The provincial government isn’t capable of making adjustments to its legislations to take into account the trauma and the social conditions of Aboriginal people,” ManyGuns said.

“It’s not fair when you have a portion of the population that’s been subjected to systemic poverty and all the violence and the extreme social conditioning, negative social conditioning that the government has imposed.”

Making up just over seven per cent of kids under the age of 14 in the country, federal government statistics show Indigenous children account for more than half of kids in Canada’s foster care system.

Click to play video: 'More children in care of the state today than during residential school era: Blackstock'
More children in care of the state today than during residential school era: Blackstock

Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society’s executive director, recently said more First Nations families are being separated now than during the years of residential schools, with some still dying in government care.

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She said the separations were a result of the federal government’s refusal to comply with a 2016 legal decision that required it to end its discriminatory provision of services.

“I’m very hopeful for Cowessess First Nation and especially as they are coming out of the wake of the discovery of so many of those children in the grounds of that residential school,” Blackstock told Global News Tuesday.

Read more: Time to ‘reflect’: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe on celebrating Canada Day

“They’re doing everything they can to make sure that this generation of children doesn’t have to recover from their childhoods. I’m just very skeptical that the government of Canada is doing that. I think that they’re really trying to shirk their responsibilities nationally.”

Last month, Cowessess announced the finding of an estimated 751 unmarked graves were found at the site of the former Marieval residential school.

The announcement came after a First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., reported in May that unmarked burial sites of 215 children were found on the site of the former Kamloops Residential School.

“Every First Nation, Inuit, and Métis child should have the opportunity to grow up with their families and in their communities, so they can reach their full potential. We are pleased to support Cowessess First Nation in exercising their jurisdiction to ensure a better start for their children,” Trudeau said.

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— with files from Emerald Bensadoun. 

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