Direct link between MMIWG and child welfare: First Nations family advocate

The national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls will hear from seven experts on child welfare and family violence in Winnipeg this week.

Cora Morgan is testifying Monday at the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls

Tina Fontaine, right, was in the care of Child and Family Services when her body was pulled from the Red River in 2014. (CBC)

There's a causal relationship between the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women and the child welfare system, Manitoba's First Nations family advocate says.

"I think it's really critical for us to be able to have that voice recognized — that there is a direct link between MMIWG and the child welfare system," said Cora Morgan, who has seen two of her clients killed in the past three years.

Morgan, who says she sees the effects of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls walk into her office every day, helps Indigenous families navigate the system and get their children back from Child and Family Services. 

"We have some mothers here that have nearly lost their lives as children in care because they were put in such dangerous situations as children," said Morgan, who will testify Monday at the MMIWG, which is convening in Winnipeg this week.

The inquiry's chief commissioner says she's heard similar stories across the country.

"This is going to pull it all together, because what people have told us is that the vicious circle of violence and problems start with children going into the child welfare system," Marion Buller said.

The institutional hearing, which takes place at the Fort Gary Hotel, will hear from seven experts on child welfare and family violence, including Dr. Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, who will testify Wednesday.
Cora Morgan is testifying at the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls on Monday. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the federal government discriminates against First Nation children on reserves by failing to provide the same level of child welfare services that exist elsewhere.

Blackstock led that fight, which she began in 2007.

Other experts include: Sarah Clark of the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation, Dr Amy Bombay of Dalhousie University,  Dr Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond who is the former children's advocate of British Columbia, family therapist Dr. Allen Wade and singer Susan Aglukark.

"We're hopefully going to be able to square that circle to see that intergenerational violence is a major factor in Indigenous women and girls going missing or being murdered," Buller said. "We haven't quite got all the evidence yet to make that conclusion, but it is certainly pointed in that direction."

Child and Family Services

Last week, the government of Manitoba released its year end report on child welfare, including an updated count of how many children are in care of Child and Family Services.

Of the 10,328 children in CFS, 87 per cent are Indigenous. There are an additional 448 kids in non-paid care, but the report did not indicate how many are Indigenous.

"We know that there's been a lot of the women who've been missing or murdered in Winnipeg that were part of the child welfare system," Morgan said.

The body of Fonessa Bruyere, 17, was found in August 2007. (Submitted by Bruyere family)
In 2007, the body of Fonessa Bruyere, 17, was found in a field outside of Winnipeg. Her grandmother, Janet Bruyere, says Fonessa had been kicked out of her group home a month earlier.

"She barricaded herself in her room and she didn't want to eat. She was starving herself in there," Bruyere said.

Two years later, two of Fonessa's friends met the same fate. The bodies of Cherisse Houle and Hillary Wilson were also found outside of the city, a month apart, during the summer of 2009. They, too, were in CFS care.

Morgan says CFS is connected to more deaths than just these three unsolved homicides.

"When children are taken from mothers and the system is so difficult to navigate … they don't even know where their children are and they're hopeless," she said.

"We've learned of up to 16 mothers who have taken their lives because they can't get their child out of the child welfare system. I want that to be on the record as well."

This is the second last hearing for the national inquiry. Testimony wraps in later in October in St. John's, NL at the final hearing, which will focus on sexual exploitation and human trafficking.