No Aboriginal cultural, language supports for Labrador foster children in Roddickton

The English School District says there are no special provisions for 80 foster children from Labrador going to school on the Northern Peninsula.

Child and Youth Advocate says may be a violation of the children's rights

Children in Nain celebrate at a school pageant. Critics of sending children out of Labrador for foster care worry culture and language suffer as a result. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The dozens of Aboriginal children from Labrador who are in foster care on the Northern Peninsula are not receiving education that is tailored to their culture, language and religion, and the province's child and youth advocate suggests that may be a violation of their rights.

The curriculum being taught in schools in the Roddickton and St. Anthony area is developed by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and delivered by the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.

A statement from the district this week confirmed "there are no specific cultural or language courses offered for foster children" at those schools.

CBC News has requested an interview with Education Minister Dale Kirby.

Equivalent to earlier scandals, says Inuit leader

The placement of about 80 Aboriginal children in foster homes in the area is a controversial move, and has generated mixed reaction since it was exposed in a series of stories by CBC News this week.

One Aboriginal leader said it's a modern day equivalent to scandals from an earlier era in Canada.

"They would look at the foster-care system as being successful. Whereas for us, basically, we see that as the children that are successes are those who have adapted to, and become attached to and assimilated into the foster family, adopting their values and beliefs," Michelle Kinney, deputy minister of health and social development with the Inuit government of Nunatsiavut, told CBC News.

"It's very similar to the residential school program. To the Sixties Scoop."

Community leaders in towns like Nain worry that foster children will become assimiliated into white communities. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Residential schools were created by governments and some religions to educate Aboriginal children and integrate them into Canadian society.

More than 150,000 children attended these schools, and the practice is blamed for causing long-term problems among Indigenous people.

The so-called "Sixties Scoop" was the mass removal of Aboriginal children from their families for placement into the child welfare system, often without the consent of the families.

Infringing on childrens' rights?

A recent court decision in Ontario relating to the Sixties Scoop found the federal government failed to prevent Aboriginal children from losing their identity, which resulted in psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, unemployment, violence and high rates of suicide.

Newfoundland and Labrador's Child and Youth Advocate, Jackie Lake Kavanagh, has raised concerns about the relocation of Labrador foster children.

She called on the provincial government and Aboriginal leaders to find other solutions to removing the children, and to provide the necessary supports.

She also referenced Article 20 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says children who are removed from their parents' care have the right to care that respects their language, culture and religion.

"The current situation where children are removed from their communities and culture, sometimes for prolonged periods of time, makes it very challenging for these children to be reintegrated," Lake Kavanagh wrote in a statement to the media on Thursday.

Children No. 1 priority

In an interview with CBC Radio's The Current this week, Sherry Gambin-Walsh, the minister responsible for children, said the province has "no choice" but to remove the children because of a critical shortage of foster homes, and her department's No. 1 priority is the protection of children.

Sherry Gambin-Walsh is the Newfoundland and Labrador minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Gambin-Walsh suggested changes may be coming as part of an ongoing review of the Children and Youth Care and Protection Act.

Meanwhle, her department issued a statement Friday, saying steps are being taken to ensure "cultural continuity," including contract by telephone and through FaceTime, visits by biological parents and other family members, and trips home for the children to see family and to take part in cultural gatherings.

The department said children are encouraged to participate in traditional activities such as berrypicking and hunting, and foster parents are encouraged to place photographs of the child's home community in their homes.

Children also have contact with each other through a strong foster families association in Roddickton, the department added.

About the Author

Terry Roberts

CBC News

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.