North

Cree leaders lend support to Quebec customary adoption bill

After decades of lobbying and two previous attempts to change Quebec's adoption laws, Cree authorities in Northern Quebec are supporting a bill tabled Thursday which would provide legal recognition of Indigenous customary adoption.

Cree authorities have been pushing for changes to the province's adoption rules since the early 1980s

Bella M. Petawabano, Chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services, in April. Petawabana says that the new bill would recognize something that remains 'an integral part of Cree culture and identity.' (Jaime Little/CBC)

After decades of lobbying and two previous attempts to change Quebec's adoption laws, Cree authorities in Northern Quebec are supporting a bill tabled Thursday which would provide legal recognition for Indigenous customary adoption.

Quebec's Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée called Bill 113 "a historic step" that would modify the province's civil code to recognize the widespread and longstanding tradition of adoption in First Nations and Inuit communities.

"It was a matter of survival for the people for hundreds of years," said Melissa Saganash, Director of Cree-Quebec Relations for the Cree Nation Government at a press conference at the National Assembly. 

"Each First Nation or Inuit community has its own methods, its own regulations if you wish, and has its own system of customary adoption. What this bill is doing, when it's passed into law, is it's going to give us the tools to... properly attest to a customary adoption, giving it a legal effect." 

Customary adoption allows families to choose a home within the community, often within the extended family, where a child can be adopted. This allows biological parents to maintain a certain level of contact.

While customary adoption is recognized under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement signed in 1975, this is the first time Quebec has introduced a mechanism to harmonize customary adoptions with provincial adoption laws.

"Try registering a child at school, for whom you don't have identification," said Saganash. "Or going to the hospital or clinic. Or just being the legal guardian of a child and having that recognized." 

Cree authorities have been pushing for changes to the province's adoption rules since the early 1980s. 

"For the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, customary adoption has been practised for generations and generations, and continues to be practised today," said Bella M. Petawabano, chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services.

"Customary adoption remains an integral part of Cree culture and identity."

Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallée, flanked by Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay chairwoman Bella Moses Petawabano (left) and Quebec Native Affairs Minister Geoffrey Kelley, said amending Quebec's Civil Code to recognize Aboriginal customary adoption is a 'historic step.' (CBC)

If Bill 113 is passed, each Indigenous nation or community could, if they choose, designate a local body that would determine when and under which conditions a customary adoption takes place. This could also include whether the birth parents continue to have any legal obligations toward the adopted child.

The body responsible for overseeing customary adoption could be an elders' council, the band council, or an institution such as a local health board.

This local authority would then provide an attestation of the adoption to Quebec's directeur de l'etat civil, which issues birth certificates and other documentation.

"The Cree Nation sees this bill as a positive first step in creating a bridge, an important bridge, between Indigenous customary adoption regimes and the provincial adoption regime," said Saganash.

"This bill respects the authority of Indigenous nations and communities to determine how and when customary adoptions will take place, their effects, and provides a mechanism for this to be communicated to provincial administrative authorities."

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