Nfld. & Labrador

Group home for children in protective care opens in Sheshatshiu

Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Eugene Hart made the Thursday announcement in the community, where children in care are often sent hundreds of kilometres away.

Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Eugene Hart made the announcement Thursday

A new group home is one step toward keeping more Indigenous children in their home communities, says Innu Nation Deputy Grand Chief Etienne Rich. (CBC)

A new group home opened in Sheshatshiu, Labrador, as part of a plan to keep Innu kids who are in the child protection system in their home community.

It is "but one step" to keep more Indigenous children closer to home, said Innu Nation Deputy Grand Chief Etienne Rich.

Area children did a traditional dance in traditional dress at the opening announcement. (CBC)

The Shushepeshipan (Joseph Nuna Sr.) Group Home — which opened in a renovated older building — will be named for a man who opened his own home to children who needed a place to stay, according to Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Eugene Hart, who made the announcement at the Innu Ussiniun Youth Centre.

"That was the Innu way," Hart said. "It still is."

The home — which currently houses three children and has space for eight — will provide Innu cultural programming, and community elders will engage with children and youth in care, the provincial government's media release said.

The Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation (SIFN) has also started construction on two emergency houses to place other children in the protection system, Hart said.

The home is supported by the SIFN, the provincial government, and Ottawa, said Labrador MP Yvonne Jones. Indigenous Services Canada provided SIFN with $1.05 million for salaries, staff training and youth programming, according to a media release issued Thursday afternoon.

"The youth group home, which is Innu-led — probably one of the first that will be led by Innu people — staffed and operated right here in the community, will provide a safe and healthy placement resource for Innu children and youth," Jones said.

Inquiry still awaited

In 2017 the Newfoundland and Labrador government announced an inquiry into the treatment of Innu children in the child protection system, where they are overrepresented.

Ottawa will participate in an inquiry into Innu children's experience in foster care and will fund Innu involvement, Jones said.

Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Eugene Hart announces a new group home in his community on Thursday. (CBC)

"We know that there's a lot of work to be done."

The process of choosing commissioners for the inquiry is underway but no start date has been set, said Rich.

Lisa Dempster, minister of children, seniors and social development, said, 'We have heard loudly, you want your children in your communities.' (Bailey White/CBC)

More than half of the children in protective care in Canada are First Nations, Inuit or Métis. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 34 per cent of the children in protective care are Indigenous, and half of those children are Inuit.

Many of the children in foster care are placed hundreds of kilometres from their home communities, sometimes outside of Labrador or the province.

In April it was announced that the Office of the Newfoundland and Labrador Child and Youth Advocate would review the experiences of Inuit children in protective care in the province, after a request was made by the Nunatsiavut government.

Nunatsiavut decided that an independent report, instead of an inquiry, would better suit their needs in addressing the issue, Michelle Kinney, Nunatsiavut's deputy minister of health and social development, said when the review was announced. That review is expected to be completed by March 31, 2019.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Bailey White and Jacob Barker