Wabaseemoong Independent Nations will have Anishinaabe law on child welfare start in new year
Wabaseemoong has provided protection, prevention and caregiver services to its three communities since 2011
After years of community consultations and hard work, Wabaseemoong Independent Nations in Treaty 3 will see its own child welfare law take effect in the new year.
The customary care code, which was confirmed at a special meeting of the First Nation in 2017, will have the force of federal law, as set out in the landmark Bill C-92 regarding Indigenous child welfare authorities.
"This law was the one that's been handed down from generations to generations before any other laws came in, and it's about life and how people help each other and support each other, especially with their children. It is all about preserving families and preserving communities," said Adolphus Cameron, the executive director of the Wabaseemoong Child Welfare Authority.
"There are two things that we're going to be concentrating on: preserving families; and going through the healing process for everybody, especially starting with our children."
Code to help community heal from colonialism
The ongoing impacts of the residential school system, the Sixties Scoop, the Northern Adoption Project and the welfare system — all of which served to separate Indigenous children from their families — have eroded traditional laws, social structures and governments that oversaw matters related to children and families, said Cameron.
"Our community has gone through a lot of historic trauma and persevered. But the impact of that trauma now touches our children, so it is our hope that, in the future, our children won't have to endure the pain these traumas left with our community," he said.
The work of the First Nation to have complete authority over its own child welfare system has been long in the works.
In 1990, the Wabaseemoong band council passed a resolution forbidding children's aid societies from entering the reserve in an effort to stop the continued removal of children from the First Nation.
That led to the First Nation becoming the first community to be a mandated children's aid society on reserve in Ontario, with its leadership playing a key role in the creation of Ojibway Tribal Family Services, which provided an Indigenous-operated alternative to the mainstream child welfare system.
That organization closed in 2001 when it stopped receiving direct funding from government, but was replaced a few years later by Anishinaabe Abinooji Family Services (AAFS), which has a provincial mandate to provide child welfare and prevention services to 14 First Nations in the northern area of Treaty 3.
The community considers the code and the accompanying manuals sacred because that is the knowledge of our elders that is contained in those documents- Adolphus Cameron, executive director Wabaseemong Child Welfare Agency
Then in 2011, Wabaseemoong regained jurisdiction over its own child and family services when it reached a service agreement with AAFS to devolve its responsibilities to the First Nation, creating the Wabaseemoong Child Welfare Authority.
According to Cameron, that's when the First Nation began intensive discussions within the community "about traditional practices of raising children and helping each other."
The code, which was completed in 2017, has been "driven by the community, and especially the elders. It's their knowledge that's in the code…and the community considers the code and the accompanying manuals sacred because that is the knowledge of our elders that is contained in those documents," said Cameron.
Since then, the First Nation has been "doing training on it, getting to know it, getting to understand it and how we can provide services around that."
Care code to 'have the force of federal law'
On Jan. 1, 2020, Bill C-92 An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families came into force, which recognized Indigenous peoples' jurisdiction over child and family services as part of their right to self-governance.
Under the new legislation, an "Indigenous governing body" can exercise their jurisdiction over child and family services and their own laws will prevail over federal, provincial or territorial laws if they've reached an agreement with the provincial and federal government, or if "reasonable efforts to reach an agreement were made during the period of 12 months."
Cameron said when the legislation came into effect, the First Nation "submitted our code to have federal enforcement."
"On January 8, we will be implementing our code."
A press release stated, "the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations will continue to work with its federal and provincial partners on implementation of the Code and a Co-Ordination Agreement between the parties."
While the First Nation is calling it a historic announcement, Cameron reflected on the long process.
"One of the sad things is that the elders that have contributed so much into this have now passed, and to have their dreams to be realized, I wish they were here."
"But I'm pretty sure they're here in spirit, and that's one of the things we hold dear about our documents. They're very sacred to us, because that is what they left with us. That's their knowledge and it's their legacy," Cameron said.