Metis National Council President Clement Chartier hugs former indigenous services minister Jane Philpott, who is now president of the Treasury Board, during a press conference on the introduction of Bill C-92 in Ottawa on Thursday. Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan, back right, and Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, look on. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Ottawa set to begin overhaul of Indigenous child welfare system

The federal government has unveiled a sweeping overhaul of Canada’s Indigenous child welfare system that will effectively turn over child care to First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.

News of the plan was revealed last fall by then-Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott to address a problem that a year earlier the government had declared a “humanitarian crisis.”

Just 7.7 per cent of all Canadian children under 14 are Indigenous, but they account for 52.2 per cent of all children in foster care.

Perry Bellegarde, AFN National Chief, speaks as Indigenous Services Minister, Seamus O’Regan, and Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, look on at press conference on the introduction of Bill C-92 on Thursday. Bellegarde calls the bill “long overdue.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick.

Upward of 40,000 Indigenous children are in state care in Canada

First Nations people in Canada have long called on the federal government to address the problem.

On Thursday, Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde praised the bill at a gathering that included federal Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan and Indigenous leaders.

“The tragedy of thousands of First Nations Children is care tells us we need a new approach,” Bellegarde said.

“The time is long overdue for First Nations to finally regain responsibility over our children.”

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs rejected Ottawa’s new child welfare legislation announced Thursday. Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, centre, called the Bill C-92 misleading and a disappointment. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Among other things, Bill C-92 emphasizes the need for the child-welfare system to promote more preventative care and support for families instead of apprehending Indigenous children from their mothers.

Despite a mainly positive reaction to the bill,  there are fears among some that First Nations communities may not have the funds to implement the changes.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, says the bill includes no statutory funding for child welfare and that worries her.

“We don’t know who will be taking power in November and First Nations chidren’s’ safety, well-being and their right to culture and language and to their families should not be subject to whoever is in power,” she says.

O’Regan says funding will be worked out as agreements are reached

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, (shown in 2017) says everyone needs to take a closer look at funding the new system. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Elsewhere, the announcement was greeted with varying degrees of optimism, skepticism and hope.

O’Regan, who says funding will be worked out as agreements are reached, calls Bill C-92 an “entirely new process” and wants it passed as soon as possible.

“An entire generation of Inuit, Métis and First Nations children and youth are counting on us to get this right,” he said Thursday.

“We cannot let this children down. We will not let these children down.”

With files from CBC, CP, CTV, Global, Globe and Mail

Categories: Indigenous, Politics, Society
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