Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, foreground, and Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, take part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 7, to sign a protocol agreement to advance First Nations' exercise of jurisdiction over child and family services. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Potential breakthrough looms in First Nations child welfare dispute

There appears to be a major breakthrough in a long-running dispute between Ottawa and Canada’s Indigenious peoples.

The federal government on Thursday consented to the certification of two class action lawsuits over funding for First Nations child welfare services and the state of health services for children on-reserve and in the Yukon. 

The consent came after legal teams for the parties appeared for a special sitting before the Federal Court in Ottawa and agreed to mediation to try to resolve claims of the class actions–which are proceeding together–through negotiations.

Xavier Moushoom was the lead plaintiff in a class action filed with the Federal Court of Canada in 2019 over Ottawa’s discrimination against First Nations children by underfunding child welfare services on-reserve.The lead plaintiff, Xavier Moushoom, an Algonquin man from the Lac Simon Anishnabe Nation, Que., was shuffled through 14 foster homes between the ages of nine and 18. (Radio-Canada)

One lawsuit–seeking $10 billion in damages–was filed in January by the Assembly of First Nations on behalf of former First Nation foster children.

The suit claims that by shortchanging services for Indigenous children, the federal government created an incentive to remove them from their homes and place them in foster care as the “first — not the last — resort.”

The other was filed in March of 2019 by three law firms on behalf of a former foster child from a Quebec and Nova Scotia First Nation member who suffers from cerebral palsy.

It seeks $6 billion in damages on behalf of former foster child Xavier Moushoom of La Nation Anishnabe du Lac Simon, Que., and Jeremy Meawasige of Pictou Landing First Nation in Nova Scotia. Meawasige was born with cerebral palsy, spinal curvature and autism.

Jeremy Meawasige sits with his mother, Maurina Beadle, at home in Pictou Landing First Nation in Nova Scotia on July 19, 2011. Beadle was Meawasige’s primary caregiver until she suffered a stroke in 2010. The Pictou Landing band council stepped in to provide assistance but the funding from Ottawa was not adequate. Meawasige was added to a class action lawsuit over First Nation child welfare, originally filed on behalf of Xavier Moushoom. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Justice Minister David Lametti said Thursday the parties are in agreement on the certification of the claims put forward.

“We are making progress in negotiations,” they said in a statement.

“In order to obtain a prompt resolution, parties have agreed to commence mediation as soon as possible upon appointment of a mutually acceptable mediator.”

In November, Lametti and Miller issued a joint statement saying the federal government intended to settle the Moushoom and Meawasige lawsuit.

AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde said Thursday he welcomed Ottawa’s decision.

“Systemic discrimination against First Nations children is abhorrent,” Mr. Bellegarde said in a statement after the proceedings.

“Canada’s decision to work with the AFN and its allies in addressing this tragedy is an important step.”

With files from CBC News

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