New legislation gives Indigenous groups jurisdiction over child welfare

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami welcomes bill, says it will help keep Inuit children with their families

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed speaks at the Feb. 28 news conference to announce the introduction of Bill C-92. ITK co-developed the new legislation. (Photo by David Murphy/ITK)

By Sarah Rogers

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami says it welcomes new federal legislation designed to give Indigenous groups better control over their own child and family services.

Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan introduced Bill C-92, an Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families, in Ottawa on Feb. 28, alongside the country’s Indigenous groups who co-developed it—ITK among them.

“We feel as through the process has been largely collaborative and one that has allowed for us to provide an Inuit position,” said ITK president Natan Obed.

Indigenous groups have long identified the over-representation of their children and youth in care as a crisis, which culminated in an emergency meeting last year, held by then-Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott.

Indigenous children in Canada make up just over seven per cent of all Canadian children, yet the most recent census statistics show they represent 52 per cent of all children in foster care.

The new bill creates a process by which provinces and territories can circumvent youth protection laws by developing and negotiating their own child welfare services with the federal government.

As part of a series of priorities ITK identified in the bill’s development, Obed said the new legislation will help to:

• keep Inuit children with their immediate or extended families
• ensure youth protection services provided to Inuit children and families is culturally appropriate
• ensure that Inuit children living outside Inuit Nunangat are identified
• ensure that Inuit children and youth sent outside Inuit Nunangat for specialized care remain in contact with their home communities and their culture

But Obed added that Inuit groups are “cautiously supportive” of the new legislation, as they work to tweak it and ensure it offers the best fit for northern communities.

“More time with this particular piece of legislation and more understanding of the implications of the provisions in the legislation are necessary before there’s unequivocal support,” he said.

“Hopefully now there will be more incentive and more resources given to placing a child within the child’s community and their family.”

ITK also called on the federal legislation to recognize Inuit self-determination as a guiding principle.

“Federal legislation should ensure that Inuit rights holders are able to exercise agency,” ITK said in a news release.

“In some cases, this may mean providing the opportunity for Inuit to engage directly in service delivery. In other cases, it may mean providing support for Inuit and public governments or other service delivery agents to cooperate and collaborate on Inuit child welfare.”

The new legislation comes in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations on child and youth services; call to action #4 asks the federal government “to enact Aboriginal child-welfare legislation.”

It remains unclear how and how much funding Indigenous groups can access to develop their own services, but Indigenous Services said its Child and Family Services Program funding for 2018-19 is more than $1.1 billion.

Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan called the bill “historic.”

“Bill C-92 will finally put in law what Indigenous peoples across this country have been asking of governments for decades: that their inherent jurisdiction over child and family services be affirmed so that they can decide what is best for their children, their families and their communities,” O’Regan said in a release.

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(9) Comments:

  1. Posted by Candace on

    This is an interesting development – but I find it difficult to envision NTI, always in the critics seat to date, taking on the child protection portfolio. It’s a tough one, and there are few easy answers to a problem with so many different aggravating factors.

  2. Posted by Northern Guy on

    All of the kudos for this work, from an Inuit perspective at least, should be going to the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre and Tungsasuvvingat Inuit. Their tireless work year after year advocating for an Inuit-specific child welfare system and the rights of Inuit children either in care or resident in Ontario has been remarkable. As for ITK they are essentially the “Johnny come lately” who stepped into the limelight at the 11th hour to accept all the glory. When it comes to this issue ITK is indeed standing on the shoulders of far greater organizations than themselves!

    • Posted by Wait & See on

      As noted above NTI is great at making criticisms, obviously not bad at knowing how to get money thrown at them, but the real work of looking after children… well, let’s see what happens. In the long run there is no guaranteed glory for them here, the opposite could be true (hopefully not).

      • Posted by Northern Guy on

        This law will only apply to Inuit children living outside traditional Inuit areas of occupation (Inuit Nunangat) so NTI will have no say. The existing child welfare systems will largely stay intact though some tweaks may be required to prioritize the rights of Inuit children.

  3. Posted by Oracle on

    As a Foster Parent, I have never received a Child that wasn’t severely neglected, sexually abused, beaten, or extremely neglected – what is ITK’s solution to this?
    Be very careful about keeping kids with their families – sometimes the whole group makes a slave out of them or is the collective abuser
    There are serious reasons why kids are apprehended!
    Those reasons can be so serious that they are far better off in a safe home with consistent supervision, constant attention, healthy food and loving people around them.

    • Posted by The kids matter on

      I agree. It makes me so mad that the media keeps cheerfully going along with and spreading the false narrative that aboriginal kids go into care for some racist reason. In actual fact, aboriginal kids are more likely to be left in abusive or neglectful homes because everyone freaks out about the larger number of aboriginal kids in care. The kids are real people though, and they deserve safety and love. Safety, food, shelter, and love come before culture. It’s wrong to lower the standard for aboriginal kids, just because more aboriginal adults aren’t rising up to the responsibility of what it takes to raise a kid, and not destroy him or her in the process. Trying to make foster care statistics racially equal is actual discrimination, as there is no way to do it without harming vulnerable kids.

      • Posted by No Moniker on

        You make some interesting points. I agree that media can at times be bad for their casual acceptance, if not promotion, of certain cultural narratives. In this case one that says Inuit are always the victim and outsiders / southerners are always the oppressor. To write a good story, start with that template.


  4. Posted by Nunavimmiuq on

    This is very interesting, finally our own children will come home to our extended families, I just hope that 14 Villages of Nunavik Quebec is included, we lost so many children been taken away to non-inuit families, when they do not even speak or understand French or English languages, they completely lost their mother tongue, how would a French family feel if their child was brought to Inuit homes?! same anger would definitely pop up! so, as to English families, how would a English feel, if we have taken their children and force the to speak in Inuktitut!

    • Posted by Why tho? on

      Ask yourself why they were placed in these homes in to begin with? They were provided care by these southern families because their own families abused and neglected them. Do you recognize that or do you just see a ploy to steal your kids? I think your comment really shows how out of touch you are on this issue.

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