Federal government signs historic child welfare agreement with Cowessess First Nations
“Never again should kids be taken from their homes and communities.” ~Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
A historic agreement for the welfare of children in Cowessess First Nations.
“Every day, we will roll up our sleeves so that every child knows where home is. That is Cowesses First Nation. They will dance, they will get their education, and they will walk with their chin up and be a proud Cowessess citizen,” ~Chief Cadmus Delorme, Cowessess First Nations.
Just weeks after 715 unmarked graves were discovered next to the Marieval Residential School on Cowessess First Nation, the federal government has finally signed an agreement with the reserve to take authority of child welfare.
“That we can come together to sign this today, mere weeks after the tragic discoveries, is because, over the past years, leaders like Chief Cadmus and others stepped up to help us co-create legislation that recognizes that child and family services take kids from their communities and remove them from the culture and languages of their land. It is not the path forward,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in the announcement on July 6 in Saskatchewan.
This is a significant and important move, however, there is still a lot of work to be done. More than half of the children in foster care across Canada are Indigenous, according to the 2016 census. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett told CBC news that more Indigenous children are in foster care now than under the former residential school system.
Addressing the House of Commons, Inuk MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq called out the harms of the foster care system on Indigenous children:
“Colonization is not over. It has a new name. Children are still being separated from their communities. Foster care is the new residential school system. The suicide epidemic is the new form of Indigenous genocide.”
Crystal Lavallee from Crossroads program, First Peoples Voices, is actively working to counter these systemic harms.
“When you’re in a foster care system, there’s neglect; there’s abuse. There’s an epidemic of hopelessness. We go in and promote hope and resiliency.” Lavallee said in a Context interview. “The message being sent to those kids is that they’re not loved, and we’re going in and saying you are loved, and you are valuable.”
Stephanie Joy Styres from Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation says this agreement is the first step in honouring treaties that give jurisdictional power in all government systems.
“This is a very incredible time for Indigenous people to be living in. There is a definite shaking and a shifting taking place,” Styres told Context.
“Everything that the residential school system worked to strip away from Indigenous peoples must be restored in order for true identity, power, and success to flow in the lives of Indigenous people. The revitalization of Indigenous identity, through language and culture, is vital when empowering the children of the next seven generations.” Added Styres.
The agreement with Cowessess First Nation is part of the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, which came into effect January 2020.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Matthew 10: 14-16) Matthew 18:6 – whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
WATCH below for a discussion with Stephanie Joy Styres, Crystal Lavalle, and former Elsipogtog chief Susan Levi-Peters on Indigenous foster care.