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Eagle Lake First Nation Elder maintains hunger strike to protest 'oppressive' child welfare system

A woman from Eagle Lake First Nation in northern Ontario is entering her seventh day of a hunger strike after being denied access to her great-grandchildren last weekend by a child welfare agency.

First Nations child welfare agency 'breaks families' instead of helping them, Eagle Lake woman says

An Anishinaabe woman launched a hunger strike to re-gain access to her great-grandchildren who are in the child welfare system. (CBC)

A woman from Migisi Sahgaigan (Eagle Lake) First Nation in northwestern Ontario is entering her seventh day of a hunger strike to protest an "oppressive child welfare system that continues to break down families."

The woman began the hunger strike on Oct. 9 after being denied access to her great-grandchildren last weekend by a child welfare agency. She told CBC News on Friday morning that those visits were "reinstated without question" but her act of protest continues.

CBC News is not using the woman's name to comply with provincial regulations that prohibit the public identification of children in the child welfare system. She said four of her great-grand children are in the care of Anishinaabe Abinoojii Family Services, a First Nations-run agency in Treaty 3.

The woman, who is a registered psychotherapist, told CBC News that she had regular visits with her great-grandchildren for nearly a decade until Thanksgiving weekend this year when she was told that her access was being denied.

"I want the Abinoojii Family services to reinstate my visits with my great-grandchildren," she said. "They are my life, they are my future generation. I don't want to lose connection with them and right now I don't feel like I have any connection with them."

The children were taken into care because their mother suffers from an addiction to drugs, she said.

"This can happen to anyone — your family being involved with child and family services — because I never, ever thought it would happen to me."

The great-grandmother said she started the hunger strike after the leadership at Migisi Sahgaigan was unable to overrule the decision of the child welfare agency to deny her access.

"What was really clear to me was that Anishinaabe Abinoojii Family Services had more power than myself, than three generations of my family, and more power than the police, more power than the legal system, the lawyers, the judges and our Migisi Sahgaigan chief and council," she said.

The woman said both she and her husband speak Anishinaawbemowin and were sharing their language, culture and traditional values with their great-grandchildren. She said she wasn't told why her visitation rights are being denied but believes it's owing to a conflict between Anishinaabe parenting styles and non-Indigenous ways of parenting.

A director with Anishinaabe Abinoojii told CBC on Friday afternoon that the agency is "working on" addressing the woman's concerns and has been in touch with her, but Dennis Petiquan said confidentiality prevents him from commenting further.

'Brown agency' run by 'white policies'

"The rights of my great-grandchildren are being violated, as well as my own by this oppressive brown agency that's run by non-Native policies, white policies," the woman said. "Our agency has proven time and time again that it has broken families rather than repatriated families."

Community health nurses visited the woman this week, she said, to help her manage her Type 2 diabetes while she is on the hunger strike and she remains committed to the protest.

In addition to regaining access to her great-grandchildren, the woman said she hopes her hunger strike sparks a resurgence of traditional Anishinaabe laws regarding the care of children.

To that end, she sent a letter, dated Oct. 15, to First Nations leaders throughout the Treaty 3 territory.

"I urge you all to stand up for our children and families and fully implement Anishinaabe Abinoojii Inakonigwin immediately," the letter reads.

"I'm a very traditional woman and I'm counting on the women to stand up and say we're going to take our responsibilities back as Anishinaabe women and we have to take care of our own children," she said.

"If my hunger strike can at least make some kind of shift toward that, then it's worth what I'm doing."