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Tulita grandfather says custom adoption not being recognized

A Tulita, N.W.T., man says he's still fighting to see his granddaughter despite having an aboriginal custom adoption declaration.

Wilfred Lennie still fighting for access to granddaughter in Yellowknife

A Tulita, N.W.T., man says he's still fighting to see his granddaughter despite having an aboriginal custom adoption declaration. 

Wilfred and Sarah Lennie's daughter planned to give her baby girl up for adoption when she was born in Edmonton in 2005. But the Lennies stepped in and the girl came to live with them in Tulita shortly after she was born

Wilfred Lennie and his granddaughter in 2006. (submitted by Wilfred Lennie)

"This child is one of our blood-related children, we cannot let that go," Wilfred Lennie said.

 Lennie said a year later the child's father visited Tulita and took the baby to Yellowknife. 

"I wanted the child back because it's just like they kidnapped the child from me because it was in our custody at that time," he said. 

Wilfred Lennie and his wife Sarah applied for the custom adoption in 2011. Lennie said it was a last ditch effort, after they were repeatedly denied access to their granddaughter by her paternal, non-aboriginal grandmother in Yellowknife.

"That woman, she's not following the court orders given to her in 2007," said Lennie.

According to court documents, both sets of grandparents had joint custody, but the child would remain in Tulita

"This child was baptized in Tulita and she's a band member," he said. 

The child remained in Yellowknife, full time, and Lennie says the joint custody arrangement quickly broke down. Today he says the grandmother in Yellowknife no longer allows them to speak to or see their granddaughter. 

"She's breaking the law," he said.

"I talked to several ministers to tell them that it's happening, but no one seems to want to help. They're not telling me why they don't want to get involved with it. Even social services says, 'Go see this guy, go see this guy.' Just like you're going in circles." 

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya said he wants to see the aboriginal custom adoption documents hold up in court. Lennie said despite the aboriginal custom adoption, the paternal grandmother is now pursuing the court process to adopt the girl.

"It may not look like a formal process, but there is a process," Yakeleya said. "It's been recognized by the court and we need to uphold that."

Yakeleya plans to raise concerns on Wilfred Lennie's behalf with the N.W.T. justice minister.

"These adoption papers are just as equal to any other adoption papers filed in the court of Canada," he said.

Lennie is preparing to head back to court to ensure the aboriginal custom adoption is upheld, but he says he can't afford a lawyer and says he's not eligible for legal aid.

Lennie says he has approached the Dene Nation and the Metis Association to assist him with legal fees, but said he hasn't heard back.