Manitoba

Manitoba prepares to turn over child welfare to Indigenous governments with information-sharing legislation

Manitoba is introducing legislation it says will help Indigenous governments take control of child welfare in their communities.

Damage to Indigenous children in care won't be undone overnight: First Nations family advocate

Manitoba Families Minister Rochelle Squires said the province is ready to support the Indigenous jurisdiction of child and family services. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Manitoba is introducing legislation it says will help Indigenous governments take control of child welfare in their communities.

The new legislation will hand over information held by Child and Family Services agencies to the Indigenous governments and service providers choosing to take legislative authority over their children in care.

The information being exchanged includes details about the children and families receiving services, as well as personal health information and access to the child abuse registry.

The legislation also transfers the supervision of care and guardianship of children in care to Indigenous service providers.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires said Manitoba is transforming the child welfare system "in the spirit of reconciliation."

Handing over information

The province is adhering to the federal Bill C-92 legislation, which gives First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities the authority to take over child welfare. The legislation was passed in 2019. 

"They've got jurisdiction," Squires said of Indigenous governing bodies, "but they also need the information from us, information that we've kept: historical records, access to the child's medical history if that's the case, access to information about community members.

"This just sets the legislative framework so that they can easily and seamlessly receive information about families over which they have jurisdiction."

Earlier this year, Peguis First Nation became the first Indigenous group in Manitoba to take back child welfare duties.

Under current laws, Squires said Peguis would need to pursue legal action to obtain records about their children. She said new legislation would change that. 

"We don't want to have to go through a court order to be able to facilitate a transfer of information."

Cora Morgan, the First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba chiefs, said the present child welfare model has inflicted damage on damage generations of families. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Cora Morgan, First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said handing over control doesn't make up for "over 150 years of stolen children."

"Now that our nations have an ability to reassert jurisdiction, they're taking on a lot of damage that was created by governments prior to now," Morgan said, citing residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and the use of sanatoriums as some examples.

"Now we have the opportunity to do things our way, or closer to our way, after all of that. It's challenging and it won't be easy."

Squires said 17 Indigenous communities in Manitoba are pursuing co-ordination agreements with the provincial and federal governments regarding child welfare.

Twelve months following the request, the laws of the Indigenous group and community will take effect and prevail over any other laws, no matter if a co-ordination agreement has been realized. 

Though Manitoba may lose authority over child welfare, Morgan hopes the province comes up with appropriate funding so children under their authority are appropriately cared for. 

Pimicikamak Cree Nation Chief David Monias bristled at the provincial government having authority over child welfare information in the first place. 

"I think they should relinquish control and management of that data, because they're just granting access, not giving us full access," he said.

"They should be coming to the table, willing to listen to us, to listen for our wishes."

He added some Indigenous governing bodies feel coerced into entering co-ordination agreements, when they'd rather set off on their own. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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