The death Tuesday of a 22-month-old child in foster care has First Nations leaders in Saskatchewan calling for a public inquiry.
"For the second time in six months a child belonging to Sturgeon Lake First Nation has died in the care of the province," a media release issued Friday said. "In both cases, the children died in suspicious circumstances."
The First Nation wants a public inquiry into both deaths and also demanded access to files on other children for a review of their circumstances.
"The band is demanding an independent assessment of all of the foster and alternate care homes where their children are currently placed," the release said.
Band Chief Wesley Daniels said he was aware of 116 children who were in the care of the province.
"We are looking for answers," Daniels told CBC News in an interview Friday. "We have still not received any answers."
Autopsy says child drowned
On Tuesday, a child was taken to hospital in Saskatoon and pronounced dead upon arrival.
'I want to get some answers. I want to know what's going on' —Chris Martell, father of boy who died in foster care
On Friday, the provincial government said an autopsy determined the cause of the boy's death was drowning and added, in a media release, that "[t]here were extensive scald type burns which may have contributed to the death."
The child has been identified as Evander Lee Daniels.
The child's father, Chris Martell, told CBC News on Thursday that he had visited his boy just days before the death. The youngster was in foster care as a temporary measure, he said.
Martell added he was still looking for information about what happened.
"I haven't slept," he said Thursday. "This is hard. To think that he's gone. But, once I lay him to rest, I want to get some answers. I want to know what's going on."
A wake for the boy took place on Friday.
CBC News asked to speak to the minister of Social Services. Ministry staff said she would not talk because of privacy concerns.
However, the province's Child and Family Services Act does allow the minister to speak, if she deems the matter to be in the public interest.
Total of six children in the home
CBC News has confirmed there were four other foster children in the same home, which is near the community of Aberdeen, about 40 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.
RCMP said Wednesday that the foster children were removed from the home by social services.
Another child, the offspring of the foster parents in the home, was not removed. No ages of any of the children have been provided.
According to Saskatchewan's children's advocate, there is a provincial policy that limits the number of children in a regular, non-therapeutic foster home to four.
The leadership of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, known as the FSIN, also spoke out on Friday about the foster care situation, noting that approximately 80 per cent of children in care are from First Nations.
"It is our responsibility as a society to ensure that our children are no longer subject to a sub-standard child welfare system," FSIN chief Guy Lonechild said in a statement. "Decades of systemic under-resourcing are continuing to lead to the deaths of our children."
The FSIN also joined in the call for more specific information about the toddler's death.
"The band's ... people have been asking questions of the ministry and the answers have not been forthcoming," Dutch Lerat, a vice-chief with the FSIN, told CBC News.
According to the media release from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation, the dead child's scald burns covered "all of his body but the diaper area."
The First Nation also noted that a relative of the boy, an aunt, had been approved to take him in but the move had not taken place.
"Why did this take so long?" the band said in its news release. "It is now too late!"
Sturgeon Lake First Nations Chief Daniels also blasted the legacy of previous government policies.
"The reason many of our families are dysfunctional in the first place is because of federal and provincial assimilationist policies," Daniels said, citing residential schools and programs that encouraged the adoption of aboriginal children into white families.