First Nations in Sask. push for Indigenous children's advocate
More than 70% of the 5,200 kids in care in Saskatchewan are Indigenous
First Nations in Saskatchewan want their own advocate for Indigenous children in care — a move supported by the province's appointee.
"I myself am First Nations and I believe our First Nation people have the ability, have the knowledge, have the experience, have the inherent right to take care of our own children," said Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth Corey O'Soup.
The children's advocate is an independent office that deals with issues related to children in the care of a provincial ministry or agency. It performs a mix of public education, research, advocacy and investigations.
"Right now our First Nations are transitioning to taking over their own child and family services and their child welfare system. I think this would be just the next step," O'Soup said.
As of last December, there were 5,248 children in the province's care — 3,785 of whom were Indigenous.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations Second Vice-Chief David Pratt said for years, chiefs have wanted their own advocate as part of the push for communities to take over child welfare.
"We believe that that jurisdiction ultimately lies with the First Nation, not the government," Pratt said.
There is a precedent for such a model — First Nations in Manitoba have their own family advocate, after the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs established their own office in 2015.
Pratt said the FSIN already deals with many issues related to child welfare, saying many of the reasons children are placed into care — including poverty, a lack of education for parents, addiction or trauma from residential schools — are socioeconomic in nature.
"A lot of times when our children are taken into care, we don't feel like sometimes there's been a lot education and support in terms of the parents of knowing exactly what their rights are," he said.
Pratt recently spoke with Saskatchewan's Ministry of Social Services on some main issues, such as the need for more cultural services to be adopted by social services and how to reduce the number of kids in care.
He said the FSIN will soon be releasing a report demonstrating that First Nations have the capacity to assume control of child welfare.
Ministry not committed
How exactly a First Nation's children's advocate would function would be determined by what powers are legislated for the advocate.
However, O'Soup believes the advocate's office could take over all the on-reserve work his office currently does, and work directly with the 16 Indigenous child-care agencies.
The Ministry of Social Services did not commit to granting the FSIN's request.
In an email statement to CBC News, Minister Paul Merriman said he's proud of the province's children's advocate.
"Social Services is working with all stakeholders across our province including the Children's Advocate and Indigenous leaders to improve the health and well-being of our most valuable resource, our children" the statement said.