The federal government has introduced a bill regarding Indigenous children in care, and the Innu Nation says it’s missing something: funding terms.
The bill, introduced on Feb. 28 and named C-92 An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, was presented by Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan and was heralded by the feds as a historic turning point by the federal government.
“It’s almost beyond belief that the federal government would finally bring in legislation on First Nations child welfare, but not include any provisions to address funding,” said Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich in a release. “It’s irresponsible. Funding issues have led to decades of crisis for our families, years of litigation, and countless meetings. Our children need predictable, non-discriminatory funding they can rely on year after year.”
The Innu Nation said Bill C-92 ignores a ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that federal funding must ensure all First Nations child and family services reach the standard of substantive equality, and it held the funding to date has been woefully inadequate and discriminatory.
Under this bill, according to the Innu Nation, federal funding for First Nations child and family services would remain discretionary and ungoverned by any statutory terms.
“I’m calling on this government to fix this major issue in the bill right away. The legal standard set out by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal needs to be in there, in the legislation,” Rich said. “Haggling over services for our children has to stop.”
Other indigenous groups praised the legislation, including Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national association representing Inuit.
"I am encouraged by ITK's relationship with Minister Seamus O'Regan and the Department of Indigenous Services, and anticipate further discussions between Inuit leadership and government as this legislation moves forward,” Natan Obed, president of ITK, said in a release. “With today's announcement, the level of ambition of both Inuit and government have aligned to do more to protect Inuit children."
The legislation was co-developed with indigenous partners and is meant to solidify Indigenous peoples' inherent right to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services.
"Bill C-92 will finally put in law what Indigenous peoples across this country have been asking of governments for decades: that their inherent jurisdiction over child and family services be affirmed so that they can decide what is best for their children, their families, and their communities,” said Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan in a release. “The overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care in this country is a crisis, and we cannot sit idly by. While Ottawa can be a place of partisanship – I know that parliamentarians of all stripes would agree that this work is well beyond our divisions. An entire generation of Indigenous children and youth are counting on us get this right. We cannot let them down."
O’Regan said the proposed bill is designed to increase efforts to address the root causes of child apprehension, and to reunite children with their parents, extended families, communities and nations.
According to Census 2016, Indigenous children represent 52.2 per cent of children in foster care in private homes in Canada, but account for only 7.7 per cent of the overall population of children younger than 15.