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Founding First Nations sign agreement with Canada, Alberta to run own child and family services

The Founding First Nations have entered into a coordination agreement with Canada and Alberta, the first trilateral agreement in the province. Thomas Trutschel / Photothek via Getty Images

Three nations in northern Alberta have signed a “historic agreement” with Canada and Alberta that will have them run their own child and family services. It is the first trilateral agreement in the province.

The co-ordination agreement signed by the Founding First Nations — Loon River First Nation, Lubicon Lake Band and Peerless Trout First Nation — follows the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families which came into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and will give life to Awaśak Wiyasiwêwin (Children’s Law).

According to the federal government, 53.8 per cent of children in foster care are Indigenous, but they account for only 7.7 per cent of the child population.

“For generations, federal and provincial governments have systemically asserted policies that caused pain, hardship and intergenerational trauma for First Nation children and their families. That’s finally starting to change,” said Lubicon Lake Band Chief Billy Joe Laboucan in a press release.

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“Today’s announcement represents a turning point … setting the stage for a brighter future grounded in our own law, our own vision and our own path to heal our children and families.”

On Nov. 20, 2021, members of each of the Founding First Nations voted in favour of Awaśak Wiyasiwêwin a culturally relevant community-driven law that reflects the best ways to care for their children, youth and families.

A press release sent out by the federal government on Tuesday said the law will “focus at all times on prevention to ensure that culturally appropriate, wrap-around, community-driven supports and services are available … so that children can stay with their families and their communities.”

Earlier this year, Louis Bull Tribe signed a similar agreement that put child and family services in its hands; theirs, however, didn’t include the provincial government and is a two-year bilateral agreement.

In an interview with Global News, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller spoke to the province’s shift; “I think we’ve finally seen a progression in their thinking about how to best serve Indigenous Peoples.”

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“I think it’s a credit to the three founding members of this agreement and their ability to work with the Albertan government.”

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Adding, “we need provinces at the table, because every kid that’s taken into care is done by a provincially regulated and controlled agency. And so doing these bilateral agreements, you’re essentially taking away the ability to transform the system.”

Click to play video: '‘A historical day’: Alberta First Nation inks deal with Ottawa, takes jurisdiction of child welfare'
‘A historical day’: Alberta First Nation inks deal with Ottawa, takes jurisdiction of child welfare

Tuesday’s press release did not mention a financial commitment from Alberta but said the agreement will lay out how all parties will work together, including roles and responsibilities, processes and coordination of services.

Alberta’s Minister of Children’s Services, Mickey Amery, said in a press conference: “We are pleased to provide our support and commitment with funding in the transition process and will make sure to do what we can to protect our children along the way … our children deserve to be safe, supported and connected to their communities.”

Over the next five years, the agreement will see the federal government transfer $149.4 million to the Founding First Nations to support their law implementation.

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Miller said having the provinces at the table is key if nations are to support on and off reserve members and do work that deals with “prevention, apprehension and transforming the broken system.”

He said the federal government’s lack of jurisdiction in child and family services matters also furthers the need for provincial involvement.

“That’s the revolutionary nature of C-92,” said Miller. “You’re not only lifting up the inherent rights of communities, but you’re going to a space where you’ve broken up that concept of on reserve and off reserve and communities knowing how best to take care of their children means and ability to be able to welcome them home to a space with the capital investments that are needed.” 

Miller said Alberta’s actions are inconsistent. “At the same time as (signing this agreement), which I actually give them credit for doing,” he said. “(Alberta is) taking some very inconsistent positions on C-92 alongside Quebec, in the Supreme Court with respect to the inherent rights of of Indigenous Peoples to take care of … their families and their children.”

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The act was challenged by Quebec in September 2021. The province argued it was unconstitutional for the federal government to disrupt provincial authority over public service.

Quebec’s challenge currently awaits determination in Canada’s Supreme Court and Alberta is an intervener.

The Attorney General of Alberta writes, “This framework and the associated legislative authority are predicated on Parliament’s unilateral affirmation of an inherent right of self-government. Such a unilateral affirmation trenches on provincial jurisdiction, is ultra vires Parliament and inconsistent with s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.”

At Tuesday’s press conference, Minister Amery said, “It is a privilege to be signing Alberta’s first trilateral agreement which represents steps to true and meaningful reconciliation and a dedication to the well-being of our children.”

“Cultural and family connections are the absolute and utmost importance … as long as I’m minister this will be my priority every single time.”

Tuesday’s announcement is heralded by Loon River First Nation Chief Ivan Sawan as “truly groundbreaking.”

In a press release, he said, “It enables Loon River First Nation to exit the provincial system and implement our own law, control our own funding at a level that ends decades of discrimination.”

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“Now we can truly focus on prevention, culture, language, health, wellness and meaningful First Nation-led services that help our families stay together, wherever they live, right across the province.”

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