Indigenous

AFN National Chief Bellegarde calls on Trudeau to save Indigenous child welfare bill

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde has asked the prime minister to intervene on the development of an Indigenous child welfare law or risk losing support from First Nations on the proposed bill, according to a letter sent Friday.

Says if requested changes not made, First Nations won't support bill

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene on development of Indigenous child welfare law. (CBC)

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde has asked the prime minister to intervene on the development of an Indigenous child welfare law or risk losing support from First Nations on the proposed bill, according to a letter sent Friday.

Bellegarde said in the letter that First Nations were united in the criticisms of a draft of the proposed bill shared by federal officials with First Nations representatives late last month.

"I would ask you to consider addressing this issue as a litmus test of your political will to finally break from generations of colonial policies. Such policies...have torn generations of First Nations families apart," wrote Bellegarde in the letter obtained by CBC News.

"It is incomprehensible that, in 2019, we can allow the legacy of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop to continue through nothing more than another colonial practice."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a speech to an AFN assembly last December that his government would be tabling the proposed Indigenous child welfare law by the last week of January.

The bill still hasn't been tabled and the House of Commons is on a week-long break next week as the parliamentary calendar ticks down to 12 weeks before dissolution and the start of the next federal election.

Draft drew negative reviews

The draft version of the bill presented to representatives on the AFN's legislative working group, which has been engaged in co-development talks with Ottawa, drew immediate negative reviews.

Bellegarde said the bill required two major fixes — on jurisdiction and funding — before it would get the support of First Nations.

"The legislation must affirm our jurisdiction and responsibility over our children and families under our own laws," wrote Bellegarde.

"To effectively implement jurisdiction, a clear commitment of adequate and sustainable funding is imperative...These are the two critical areas that require immediate attention before the proposed bill goes any further."

In an emailed statement, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan said "We appreciate AFN National Chief Bellegarde's letter and comments that echo the overwhelmingly consistent feedback from First Nation partners on what Indigenous child and family services legislation needs to address in order to be successful.

The best interests of Indigenous children must come first- Seamus O'Regan

"Our government will be introducing legislation shortly, but we are also working diligently to incorporate the critical feedback received from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation partners. The best interests of Indigenous children must come first, and that is our driving force in getting this right."

The federal government held a news conference on Parliament Hill last December to announce it would be bringing forward the legislation which former Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott called a "turning point."

Philpott also said at the time that the legislation would "enable" First Nations jurisdiction over child welfare.​

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.

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