Opinion: Tribal Chief says STC won't let province take over First Nations children in care
- STC Tribal Chief Felix Thomas | June 24, 2016
He adds that the province has come demanding files, but hasn't asked to see any of the children.
In response to recent events, I believe it is important to clarify the role and responsibility of Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) in the delivery of child welfare programs for our seven member communities.
Our service delivery arm, STC Health & Family Services is Accredited With Commendation by Accreditation Canada. It is the corporation into which the seven Member First Nations have, along with the Province, vested their authority for addressing child welfare responsibilities. The structure of this agreement establishes us as a peer agency alongside the provincial Ministry of Social Services (MSS). Ours is a fundamentally different contract with the province than the other 16 First Nations agencies that operate as designated authorities under the provincial ministry.
STC works with MSS under a bilateral accord. The accord is intended to align our programs and ensure the safety of our children remains paramount. It does not however, require STC to conform to child welfare philosophies, policies and procedures that have undermined First Nations values, traditions and families for decades.
The Minister of Social Services suggests that our children are at risk because STC programs do not conform to their approach or reporting platform. This is blatantly untrue. We currently have 67 children under our care. We know who they are, where they are and the status of their health and safety. I challenge the Ministry to say the same for all the children in the care of the province.
The Ministry would also have the public believe we are not willing to share information about our children. This is also untrue. STC has been working collaboratively to develop protocols to address data sharing processes. An agreement was reached between our offices, I signed on our behalf, but when the agreement was sent to the Minister (on two different occasions), it was not signed. We have never refused to negotiate, but we do need to be working with the agreements that are in place. STC can cite many examples whereby the Ministry, to the detriment of the child, has refused to share information with STC.
Further, it has been suggested that children have died while in the care of STCs Child and Family Services agency. This is also untrue. The two tragedies referenced recently by the Saskatchewan Children’s Advocate were indeed young people from our First Nations, but at no time were they under the care of our agency.
And here is where we need to draw the line. We cannot allow a repeat of Indian Residential Schools, the 60’s Scoop or this new iteration of control. If it had ever been about the children, the Minister would have entered in appropriate talks rather than attempt to collapse the Agency.
The lasting intergenerational impacts residential schools has had in our communities has left too many of our families to struggle with a loss of parenting skills, addictions and devastating levels of poverty. Nationally in 2010, there were three times more children in care than there were at the height of the residential school operations in 1940 (Gauthier, 2010). When the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples visited the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, it was indicated that 95 percent of the Aboriginal inmates in the penitentiary had made contact with the child welfare system (RCAP, 1996).
In Saskatchewan, 86% of the children in care are our First Nations children. We don’t need more children displaced, we need to heal families. First Nations children and communities continue to be devastated by the mainstream child welfare system. Social impacts run deep, and contribute to systemic problems such as the heightened suicide rates, crime, and self-harm. This is completely unacceptable to us, and we will not be bullied into allowing it to continue.
Jurisdiction is what the ministry is after. Over the past two weeks the ministry has gone to our communities demanding case files – but not once did they ask to see the children they have indicated are of utmost importance. We don’t have to prove ourselves to the Ministry – we have to prove ourselves to the First Nations communities and the families and children we serve. We will do so first and foremost by empowering our communities to protect our most precious asset – our children. We will help them improve the bond of family, building connections with First Nations values, culture, spirituality and language. And as authorized by our people and treaty rights, we will intervene the moment the safety of the child is at risk.
We welcome collaboration and partnership with agencies, neighbors and all areas of government to protect and support our children. As leaders, we will not cede responsibility for our people to systems that continue to do harm nor will we stand idly by as we lose yet another generation of our children to the child welfare system.