Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavik October 17, 2016 - 4:00 pm

New Quebec law should cut admin issues for custom adoption

“It has a long, long history... and Nunavik’s position has never changed"

The cover of the book Nala's Magical Mitsiaq, a story by Iqaluit author Jennifer Noah explaining Inuit customary adoption. (IMAGE COURTESY OF INHABIT MEDIA)
The cover of the book Nala's Magical Mitsiaq, a story by Iqaluit author Jennifer Noah explaining Inuit customary adoption. (IMAGE COURTESY OF INHABIT MEDIA)

From the time she served as director of Kuujjuaq’s Tulattavik health centre in the 1990s, Minnie Grey, now executive director of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, has seen a divide between how the Nunavik region and the province of Quebec process customary adoption.

Customary adoption is an agreement, usually made before birth, between a child’s Inuit biological parents and another Inuit adoptive family, a tradition first developed to maintain kinship bonds.

But in a region where an estimated 20 per cent of children are adopted through that traditional practice, Grey noted that confusion around those children’s identities and paperwork has persisted.

Nunavimmiut and Indigenous communities across the province now hope that will change under Bill 113, tabled in Quebec’s legislature, the Assemblée Nationale, earlier this month.

The bill includes new provisions that will recognize customary adoption, including the issuance of a special birth certificate that details a child’s lineage.

“In the past there was no such thing,” said Grey.

“We were given the Quebec certificate which was a problem because the machinery of adoption wasn’t recorded. In the past, when a child was born away from home, the birth certificate did not include the adoption, so some people grew up using their adopted name, but [different name] on paper.”

Customary adoption in Nunavik is already recognized under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. But Bill 113, if passed, will ensure that adoption is recognized under the province’s civil code.

It will also clarify the roles of both Aboriginal groups and the Department of Youth Protection in regions like Nunavik.

At one point in Nunavik, the mayor or the landholding association were considered as signatories to the customary adoption, but it wasn’t a “fool-proof” solution, Grey said.

The role of the DYP isn’t to intervene in custom adoptions, she explained, but the department is required to prepare a “life plan” for some infants under its authority in helping to facilitate those adoptions.

Bill 113 will likely lead to better collaboration between the different parties involved in custom adoption, she said.

The new legislation has been a long time coming: Nunavik’s health officials, Makivik Corp. and other First Nations groups in Quebec have pushed for years to see the province’s civil code adjusted to recognize Indigenous tradition.

Legislation was introduced in both 2012 and 2013 but neither passed due to changes in the government.

“It has a long, long history,” Grey said. “Bill 113 is the product of all that work. And basically, Nunavik’s position has never changed. We’re very happy with the bill.”

Once the bill is passed into law, Grey said there will still be some decisions to make about how best to oversee the process, possibly through an Inuit adoption commissioner or community adoption committees.

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