Chief Cadmus Delorme, of Cowessess First Nation, speaks during a rally following the Gerald Stanley trial, in Regina, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. Cowessess First Nation, about 170 kilometres east of Regina, is one of at least eight aboriginal groups in Western Canada and Ontario that have notified Indigenous Services Canada that they intend to handle their own child and family services as allowed under new federal legislation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

‘We want this to happen:’ First Nation moves on own child welfare law

Cowessess has 159 children in care and 350 receiving services for protection

A Saskatchewan chief says his First Nation is not waiting on Ottawa to announce funding before the band works toward taking over its own child welfare.

Cowessess First Nation, about 170 kilometres east of Regina, is one of at least eight aboriginal groups in Western Canada and Ontario that have notified Indigenous Services Canada that they intend to handle their own child and family services as allowed under new federal legislation.

Chief Cadmus Delorme says Cowessess has already drafted its own child services law — one of the first steps required before a First Nation can take over.

The Cowessess law establishes an agency and outlines principles for programs including prevention, apprehension and intervention. It could be ratified in March, said Delorme.

“We’re very serious about this. We want this to happen. We need this to happen,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“Is the government fiduciarily obligated to help us? Probably they are. Are we going to wait for that cheque to hit our account? Our children matter so much to us that we’re just going to figure this out.”

Federal legislation came into effect last month. It affirms the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities to handle their own child welfare in the hope of reducing the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care.

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Social Services said more than 85 per cent of the 3,400 children in its care at the end of 2019 were Indigenous.

Delorme estimates Cowessess has 159 children in care and 350 receiving services for protection. Most of them are in Alberta, he said.

The First Nation is also working on co-ordination agreements with the federal government and provinces where Cowessess children are in care: Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.

“Cowessess never gave jurisdiction to the provinces for our children in care,” Delorme said.

VIDEO: More First Nations kids deserve child-welfare compensation, federal lawyers argue

William Olscamp, a spokesman with Indigenous Services Canada, said Cowessess is an early adopter of the new legislation and is well advanced in developing its own child and family services law.

Delorme said he’s optimistic they will be ready by April. He expects the community will have spent about $250,000 in development costs, which include legal bills and trips to Ottawa.

He said there’s also a budget for the first year of implementation, but he wouldn’t provide a figure. He said that’s being discussed with the federal government.

Delorme doesn’t believe Cowessess can bring in its own child-welfare services without federal money.

“Realistically we can’t. We would have to take away (money) from something else.”

Some provinces and Indigenous leaders have expressed concern about a lack of clarity on funding for and how to bring in their own child-welfare models.

The Assembly of First Nations has said it could cost up to $3.5 billion for First Nations across the country.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 Saskatchewan First Nations, recently announced it wants $360 million from Ottawa over five years to implement the legislation on reserves.

“We will continue to work with First Nation, Inuit and Métis partners, as well as provincial and territorial governments, to enact the systemic change that is necessary in order to reform this broken system,” Vanessa Adams, press secretary for Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, said in an email.

Calculating specific costs also depends on the needs of the children, Delorme said. Some may require care for physical, mental and emotional needs that could cost tens of thousands of dollars each year, he said. That may not be so for others.

“Some children in care, they just require as minimal as a culture plan.

“They’re in a really good foster home and we want those children to stay where they are. We just want to make sure that they’re safe, (that) they have a good development plan … a good culture plan (and) they know where home is.”

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, said his group also intends to use the legislation. He believes the provinces shouldn’t offload all costs to the federal government.

He urged caution when it comes to funding requests from Indigenous groups.

“We’re all working towards the same outcome and hopefully Canada’s going to support us,” he said.

“But if we start asking way beyond Canada’s means, Canada’s going to try to avoid or temporarily delay this and that’s what worries me.”

— By Stephanie Taylor in Regina

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crib challenge cup winners

55 plus zone 4 winners

Truck broken into, parked by local hotel

Trailer stolen from Ponoka area

VIDEO: Minister says consider coronavirus outbreak when planning for spring break

Foreign Affairs minister points to rash of new cases appearing in places like Italy and Iran

Prepare for new coronavirus like an emergency, health minister advises

About 81,000 people around the world have now become ill with COVID-19

B.C. residents in Wet’suwet’en territory have right to police presence: Public Safety Minister

Nevertheless, Bill Blair said officials remain ‘very anxious’ for the barricades to come down

Winnipeg police investigating graffiti on RCMP and other buildings

Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen denounced the vandalism

Alberta government asks court to stay judge’s order regarding oilsands decision

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Barbara Romaine gave Alberta 10 days to make a decision on the Rigel projec

Alberta must juggle sluggish economy, big deficits, lost jobs in upcoming budget

Premier Jason Kenney won last spring’s election on a promise to boost jobs, grow the economy

Calgary father convicted in toddler’s death from staph infection granted parole

Court heard that John was never seen by a doctor until the day before he died in November 2013

Premier, health minister announces first phase of Red Deer Hospital expansion

Alberta government is committing $100 million to begin expansion

Kenney warns cancelled energy projects stand in the way of Indigenous prosperity

Woodland Cree First Nation in northwest Alberta will receive a $187,688 grant

Most Read