Thunder Bay·Audio

Dismantle Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, NDP leadership candidate says

One of the candidates running for the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party says he will overhaul Ottawa's role in the care of Indigenous children and return decision-making power to individual communities.

Charlie Angus says government needs to end 'culture of secrecy around Indigenous people'

NDP leadership candidate Charlie Angus is calling for the dismantling of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. (The Canadian Press / Graham Hughes)

One of the candidates running for the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party says he will overhaul Ottawa's role in the care of Indigenous children and return decision-making power to individual communities.

Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus announced several measures he said will "give hope to Indigenous children and all who care for them by dismantling the colonial structures that still impeded Indigenous social development."

Angus's proposals include dismantling Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, the federal department with oversight over decisions affecting Indigenous communities, and creating an Indigenous children's ombudsperson that could force government to act if it's found to be in breach of its duties.

The announcement comes in the wake of the suicide of Jenera Roundsky, 12, from Wapekeka First Nation. She was the third 12-year-old girl to die by suicide in the remote northern Ontario First Nation as part of a pact, according to the community's band manager.

"I think one of the things that's really disturbing is the refusal of [Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada], decade-in, decade-out, to put the lives of children in any kind of priority," Angus told CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning.

The northern Ontario MP also pointed to a decision last month by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that criticized Ottawa for how it handled Wapekeka's request for mental health intervention when the girls' suicide pact was uncovered.

"At this point, with the amount of deaths that we've been seeing — the needless deaths — it's time we opened up that department, we looked at it and we figure [out] a better way of delivering these services to children," Angus said.
Jolynn Winter, 12, left, and Chantel Fox, 12, centre, from the community of Wapapeka First Nation in Ontario, died by suicide this month. Chantel is survived by her twin sister, Chanel, pictured far right. (Supplied by the Winter and Fox families)

There have been seventeen reported deaths of youth from the 49 First Nations in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in northern Ontario since Jan. 1, 2017. Twelve of those deaths were suicides.

Multi-year planning, funding

Auditing and dismantling the Indigenous affairs department, then returning decision-making powers for education, health and development to communities or treaty organizations would mean decisions are being made closer to the people affected, Angus said, using Nishnawbe Aski Nation [NAN] as an example.

"NAN would have the capacity, if they were able to hire, to handle the decisions on education, on delivery of health services," he said. "These services should be decided by the people for whom these services are being delivered."

That type of model, which would include legislated rules for how funding is spent and who's accountable, would also allow for multi-year planning and funding for things like mental health programs, as Angus said, currently, many initiatives involve short-term or one-time funding.

"If we know how they're being delivered, if we know the tracking mechanisms then we can start to see if things are getting better or getting worse," he said. "Right now, we have no idea and this is the way it's gone on for too long."

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