Sudbury

Anishinabek Nation 'seen as a leader' in creating Indigenous child welfare system

The Anishinabek Nation has some advice for other Indigenous communities looking to create independent child welfare systems. The federal government and the Assembly of First Nations continue to hammer out details of their agreement.

Anishinabek National Child Well-Being Law implemented in 22 of its First Nations in Ontario

Adrienne Pelletier is the director of Social Development for Anishinabek Nation, which advocates for the First Nations across Ontario. They have been developing own child well-being system which should be completed within two years. (Supplied Anishinabek Nation)

Indigenous communities across Canada wanting to create their own child welfare system may be looking to the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario for advice.

This week, further developments were announced in an agreement between the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) allowing Indigenous communities in Canada to create independent child welfare agencies.

Bill C-92: An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families was passed last year. It aims to reduce the number of youth in care and allow communities to create their own child welfare systems.

This week, the AFN and the federal government agreed on a 'joint fiscal table' for First Nations child and family services. Neither Inuit nor Métis national organizations have signed agreements with the federal government yet. 

Adrienne Pelletier is encouraged by the national developments, but it doesn't change the work she is doing for the Anishinabek Nation. That body advocates for the 39 First Nations in Ontario.

Pelletier is the director of social development and has been working to develop the child well-being system for Anishinabek Nation. They've been in separate negotiations with the federal and provincial governments. 

"We're ahead of the game."

The Anishinabek Nation Child Well Being law is currently implemented in 22 of its First Nation communities. Each First Nation developed community standards that were based on their traditional and cultural practices. 

But Anishinabek Nation still currently work alongside the mainstream Children's Aid Society, at least until their own system is complete.

"The community standards that are set by each First Nation — the Anishinabek Nation is going to make sure that our law is enforced and that our standards are respected by all [children aid] societies."

"It's giving the power back to the First Nations to make sure that their children are cared for in a culturally-appropriate way."

However, Pelletier says they're still negotiating funding with both levels of government, which should be completed within the next two years.

"The ultimate goal is full implementation of our law."

Trail-blazers 

Because of this experience with child welfare and working to develop an independent system, Pelletier says other Indigenous communities across Canada are now seeking advice.

"The Anishinabek Nation has been seen as a leader in terms of exercising jurisdiction in child welfare over our children, youth and families, in a culturally-appropriate way," she said.

Pelletier says several of the Indigenous communities calling for advice have been directed to the written Anishinabek Nation Child Well Being law, posted on their website.

She says before they even started to write the legislation they first sought out feedback from their community members.

"We didn't ask them what was wrong with the current system, we asked them what they wanted, and so that's what we focused on."

"They should know where they come from."

Pelletier says Indigenous children who must be removed from their homes, need to be placed where they can be cared for in culturally-appropriate ways.

She adds that band representatives can advocate for children and families before the courts. Plus Anishinabek Nation has a Children's Commissioner — Ogimaa Duke Peltier — who enforces the child-well being law.

"We want to repatriate those children [placed in non-Indigenous Foster homes] back to our own communities, and make sure those children are raised within the customs of the Anishinabek Nation and those individual First Nation communities."

"It's really important that our cultural practices, our ceremonies and our ways of being are respected," Pelletier said. 

"They should know where they come from."

"Because knowing where you come from — and that there are 8,000 people that will support you, wrap their arms around you and help you when you're in a time of need — that's so powerful to know."

Now that Indigenous communities across Canada can create their own child welfare system, they're looking for advice on how to do that. The Anishinabek Nation in Ontario had already been working on its own agreement so it's offering up its expertise. Adrienne Pelletier is the director of social development for the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario. She spoke about the matter with the CBC's Angela Gemmill. 7:22

With files from Angela Gemmill

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