Manitoba cross-cultural custody case defies convention, unites families

Two extended families defied child welfare agencies and friends to form a controversial alliance; a cross-cultural kind of adoption between an Ojibwa toddler with roots in Peguis First Nation, and a Caucasian German family in Winnipeg.

Ojibwa toddler lives with German parents; both families 'feel blessed'

A Manitoba woman loves her Ojibway son so much, she wants a Caucasian German family to raise him.

That's why she not only approved the arrangement in court, but also requested it as soon as she knew child welfare officials would seize her son when he was born.

"Because I knew he would get the best opportunities there," the woman, 30, said from the Women's Correctional Centre in Headingley, where she is serving a four-year prison sentence.

CBC is not naming the members of this family to protect the interests of the child. 

"His hair is brown, not blond ... his eyes are brown, not blue," she added. "I don't see a difference between whether [they're] Caucasian or Ojibwa. I just see a good home for him."

It is a controversial alliance; a cross-cultural kind of adoption of the woman's son, now three, between two families. Both families say they realize it's an uncommon arrangement in today's cultural climate.

But they tell CBC it's not a deja vu of the historic Sixties Scoop; the period of time from the 1960s to the 1980s when thousands of aboriginal children were placed with mostly non-aboriginal families. The forced adoptions destroyed birth families and left many of the adoptees searching years for their cultural identities and lost communities.

In fact in June, the province of Manitoba formally apologized for their role in the national phenomenon.

But this guardianship arrangement, said both of the families, is different.

"I can understand on a superficial level that this can look like a re-victimization, very close to what happened in previous generations," said the German man, who along with his wife, has permanent guardianship of the boy.

"And yet in [his] life, I feel like we've been invited in by the family.... This can be restitution, this can be reconciliation."

The two families have known each other for more than a decade, with a common faith-based connection. Both are devout Christians and worship at the same downtown Winnipeg church. When the aboriginal woman found herself pregnant, struggling with alcohol and violence, she immediately thought of approaching the other family to raise her son.

They in turn, relished the idea. But they faced critics. Typically, child welfare agencies, still reeling with the pain of the Sixties Scoop, balk at cross-cultural placements — especially when considering them as potentially permanent guardians. 

In 2013, for example, a Winnipeg Filipino family went to court to keep a child they'd raised for two years, since he was six months old. While the foster arrangement was successful and even the birth mother approved of it, the Métis Child and Family Services Authority did not. The reason? Because he was, in part, Métis. 

They therefore wanted to find him a permanent placement with a Métis family. (The courts later ruled in favour of the foster family).

In this case, however, Peguis child welfare officials approved the placement, because the aboriginal family themselves requested it. Another factor was that both extended families spent time together as one family — be it for birthday parties or church outings.

"I can tell him that I am his great-grandfather and I am Ojibwa," said the man who sees his great-grandson regularly. "He knows me. He knows his uncles."

The boy's birth mother too, stays in contact with her son.

"He knows I am mommy ... and I'll always be there for him," she said.

As for the other family, they also feel a strong inter-familial connection.

"I see [him] as my son, and because [he] is [the great-grandfather's] great-grandson, then [the great-grandfather] is my grandfather," said the man now raising the child. 

"We feel like we're blessed by this family relationship."


  • An earlier version of this story contained the names of the families involved as well as the name of the child. That was an error. The names have now been removed.
    Jun 30, 2015 4:39 PM CT


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