First Nation says Alberta government is preventing it from taking control of child welfare

Alberta First Nation says it has been almost three months since it was supposed to take legal control of its own child welfare, but the provincial government will not recognize the arrangement made possible by federal legislation .

“(Alberta) won’t recognize it at all. They won’t sign coordination agreements, ”said Darin Keewatin, executive director of the Asikiw Mostos O’pikinawasiwin Society, a child welfare organization for the Louis Bull tribe.

The tribe asked for an agreement with Alberta and Canada in October 2020 under federal law proposed in Bill C-92 and enacted the previous year. It allows First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to have jurisdiction over child and family services.

The law states that a tripartite agreement must be concluded within one year of the request. If no agreement has been reached, but reasonable efforts have been made, child protection laws designed by the Indigenous group come into play and replace provincial or territorial laws.

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Alberta Advocates for Indigenous Children Renew Calls for System Reform Following Federal Child Protection Compensation

Alberta Advocates for Indigenous Children Renew Calls for System Reform Following Federal Child Protection Compensation

Louis Bull Tribe’s law went into effect in October, but Keewatin said Alberta is not cooperating.

“As soon as a tribe commits to taking responsibility and handling the case of its children, the ministry suddenly says, ‘Oh no, that won’t happen,’ he said.

Louis Bull’s law defines the protection and prevention services of the tribe. This means that cases involving Louis Bull’s children and families should be turned over to society. Keewatin said the province has not transferred all of those cases.

The province took control of the talks early on instead of respecting the authority of the community, he said. There were some parts of the coordination agreement that the province wanted to resolve before signing it, he added.

Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz was not available for an interview, but her office made a statement.

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“Throughout the trilateral discussions with Louis Bull Tribe and the federal government, our primary focus continues to be to ensure the best possible care for Indigenous children and youth,” she said in the statement.

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“A coordinating agreement is essential to articulate roles and responsibilities to ensure that gaps in services are not created and children are not put at risk. “

Schulz said his department will work with Asikiw Mostos O’pikinawasiwin to provide services until an agreement is signed and a transition plan is implemented.

Keewatin was unwilling to speculate on the province’s concerns, but said Indigenous children are over-represented in Alberta’s child welfare system.

“We employ a huge ministry,” he said.

In March 2021, 71% of children and youth receiving child care were Indigenous, compared to just 10% of the child population in Alberta.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said talks have not yet stalled, but will be if Alberta “is resolute in its opposition.”

“I will continue to use all the tools in my toolbox to work with my provincial counterparts to help them move towards this model of self-determination.

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Criticism at the provincial level began before the federal law was passed. Quebec opposed the law and filed a constitutional challenge arguing that the law infringed on provincial jurisdiction. Alberta had expressed concerns about accountability, monitoring and data sharing.

Indigenous Services Canada said that as of December 1, it had received child welfare advice and requests from 59 Indigenous governing bodies representing more than 120 groups and communities. The department has set up 18 different tripartite discussions.

There are so far three indigenous groups with federally recognized child protection laws, but only one has a coordination agreement, the ministry said.

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Hajdu said she viewed the work done so far as a success, given the number of partners around the table and noted that “decolonization takes time.”

Judith Rae, who works for the Toronto law firm Olthuis Kleer Townshend, has spent the past few years helping Indigenous clients take control of children.

She said there has been great interest at the community level, but child protection laws are complex and take time to develop.

“There is a lot to think about. Indigenous governments take this very seriously and want to make sure that any changes they (make) are better for their children. “

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The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed matters as the talks took place online. This has made it difficult for communities that draft their own laws to consult with elders, knowledge keepers and other members, she said.

Keewatin said he was not convinced the federal legislation had succeeded, given Alberta’s continued setback.

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m still trying to find out.

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Federal government will have an answer “in the next few days” whether or not it will appeal the decision in the case of First Nations children.

Federal government will have an answer “in the next few days” whether or not it will appeal the decision in the case of First Nations children – October 27, 2021

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