The legislation is a landmark step in child welfare oversight in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
For decades, Indigenous peoples have called for the recognition of Indigenous jurisdiction over child welfare. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada outlined 94 Calls to Action, the first five of which dealt with child welfare reform and the proper implementation of Jordan’s Principle, a 2007 motion established after the death of a five-year-old Norway House Cree Nation boy named Jordan River Anderson. The fourth Call to Action stipulates the need to “enact Aboriginal child-welfare legislation that establishes national standards for Aboriginal child apprehension and custody cases” and “affirm the right of Aboriginal governments to establish and maintain their own child-welfare agencies.”
Bill C-92 is Canada’s response to these calls. It seeks to affirm the right of Indigenous peoples to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services. It is the result of a series of meetings between government representatives, Indigenous partners, community organizations, experts, and youth, as well as an emergency national meeting held in January 2018, which resulted in the Government of Canada committing to a six-point plan to overhaul the Indigenous child welfare system.
Why it matters
Given the Canadian government’s history of family separation and colonization, it should not come as a surprise that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children continue to be overrepresented in the child welfare system. Indigenous children under the age of 14 comprise 7 percent of all children of that age group in Canada. And yet, according to the 2016 census, they make up 52 percent of children in the system. As a result of residential schools and the practice known as “Sixties Scoop”—a policy that saw some 20,000 Indigenous children taken from their communities and adopted by white, middle-class families between the late 1950s and the 1980s—many Indigenous children continue to cycle through the child welfare system starting at an early age. This practice ignores cultural differences in child rearing and has effectively punished First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples for living in conditions of poverty that arose as a direct result of colonization.
Bill C-92 is the most sweeping change to the Indigenous child welfare system in a generation. It prioritizes prevention over apprehension, advocating programs and services like pre-natal care, rehabilitative family services, educational campaigns and support for teen parents. The bill mandates that if a child’s parents are unable to provide care, the authorities should first consider other family members such as grandparents, and then members of the community, before considering non-Indigenous foster parents. A child should not be taken away from his family based on socio-economic conditions alone. In addition, Bill C-92 makes clear that in the case of conflict between provincial or federal law and Indigenous law with regards to child welfare, the Indigenous law would prevail.
Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, received Royal Assent June 21, 2019.
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