New Brunswick

N.B. First Nation adopts 'historic' child welfare legislation

One New Brunswick First Nation has passed their own child welfare legislation that would see the role of child welfare transfer from the province to the First Nation.

Neqotkuk’s (Tobique First Nation) act announced days after province passes its own

Neqotkuk Child and Family Well-Being Act would see the First Nation take over from province when it comes to child welfare. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

A First Nation in New Brunswick has passed its own child welfare legislation that will see it take over responsibility from the province.

Neqotkuk's (Tobique) chief and council passed the Neqotkuk Child and Family Well-Being Act last week and announced the passage on Wednesday.

"We have talked for a long time about making our laws and taking control over child welfare for our community, our families," said Chief Ross Perley in a statement. 

"The Neqotkuk Child and Family Well-Being Act makes this goal a reality and is a historic step towards self-determination." 

A man wears traditional Wolastoqey chief's headdress.
“We have talked for a long time about making our laws and taking control over child welfare for our community, our families,” said Neqotkuk First Nation Chief Ross Perley. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

The First Nation said implementation of this legislation is allowed by federal law.

They cite a 2020 law, the "Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families," which according to the federal government "affirm the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services."

Cultural sensitivity

Among other things, the legislation would see the First Nation take over what until now was the province's authority over child welfare issues on Neqotkuk's territory.

The legislation will also create a "proactive, prevention-based child and family well-being model," and will build "service models representative" of Wolastoqiyik.

Perley said the First Nation di dnot have the ability to frame a child welfare service model that was built around their culture, until now.

He said the usual procedure before this was to send Indigenous children who needed protection and help off reserve to live with non-Indigenous families.

"That's not the solution," Perley said. "And that actually … created more problems for our community and that's what we want to stop. We want to be able to to have our own sovereignty over this."

The act will also install the Tobique Child and Family Services Agency as the service provider for child welfare services, the statement said.

Provincial law

The legislation comes after the province passed its own child welfare legislation, the Child and Youth Well-Being Act, last Friday.

New Brunswick was the last province to pass a stand-alone child welfare law.

But the provincial act was criticized by several Indigenous groups in the province who said issues they had raised weren't addressed, and that it doesn't have a voice for Indigenous people.

"I read it and it was an absolute utter slap in the face that they did not incorporate one thing that we had asked for," said Samantha Paul, executive director of Mi'gmaq Child and Family Services of New Brunswick Inc., which covers six communities.

Perley said he wasn't familiar with everything that was in the province's new child welfare act, but he said what the province was doing on reserve with children wasn't successful.

"We were having issues with our children going into their [system]. When they get of age, they have issues, they have mental health issues, they have trauma that they have to deal with," he said.

"We want to make sure that we end that cycle and we work towards healthier families and healthier children."

With files from CBC News at 6