Can a Broken System be fixed?
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
The Truth and Reconciliation Commissions’ Call to Action #4 calls upon the federal government to enact Aboriginal child welfare legislation. In response to this, on February 28, 2019, the federal government introduced Bill C-92: An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families (the Act), which entered into force on June 21, 2019. This is the first time since Confederation that the government has enacted legislation aimed at supporting Indigenous communities to address their own child welfare concerns.
The Act recognizes Indigenous jurisdiction over child and family services, and empowers Indigenous communities to “develop policies and laws based on their specific histories, cultures and circumstances.” Further, the Act codifies national principles to guide the provision of child welfare and family services,such as “best interests of the child, cultural continuity, and substantive equality.” This law is indeed a big step. However, while this is progress, it doesn’t fix the underlying problems with the child welfare systems within Canada that continue to affect Indigenous children.
The Act creates a third level of jurisdiction for child services; Indigneous communities. However, not all Indigenous communities are able to exercise their jurisdiction at the moment and still rely on federal or provincial child welfare services. This results in many Indigenous children falling under the jurisdiction of non-Indigenous child welfare and family services. One wonders if the Act will become another issue like Jordan’s Principle, where federal and provincial governments will continue to argue about who is responsible for what.
Additionally, the Act does not address racial biases and false assumptions that continue to pervade non-Indigenous child welfare systems. For example, it is an archaic colonial construct to believe that a child must have a requisite blood quantum to be deemed “Indigenous enough” to qualify for Indigenous-based support. Another false assumption is that Indigenous parents are ill equipped to parent their children. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The framework used by non-Indigenous child welfare services often misinterprets a family living on the land as impoverished. These families are only “poor” according to the colonial framework, but in reality these families are rich in child development and nurturing skills.
For Indigenous children not covered by an Indigenous community’s child welfare services, either the federal or provincial child welfare system will step in and apply their framework. The systemic issues within this framework fail to calculate for inclusion of Indigneous peoples, their culture, and the unique systemic issues they suffer from, which disadvantages Indigenous families within the child welfare system. Without addressing the systemic issues within this framework, Indigenous children will continue to be disproportionately removed from their homes, culture and community, regardless of the benefits of this Act.
Therefore, dear reader, we challenge you to consider what changes need to be made to decolonize provincial child welfare services? Alternatively how can provinces support Indigenous families when the framework they use is systemically set up to make Indigenous families fail?
Until next time,
Artwork: Maxine Noel, A New Beginning
 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Calls to Action, (2015) online (pdf): <https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf> (TRC).
 An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis children, youth and families, S.C. 2019 c. 24, online: <https://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/F-11.73/page-1.html>.
 Government of Canada, “Bill C-92: An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families receives Royal Assent” (June 21, 2019), online: Indigenous Services Canada <https://www.canada.ca/en/indigenous-services-canada/news/2019/06/an-act-respecting-first-nations-inuit-and-metis-children-youth-and-families-receives-royal-assent.html>.
 “Wrapping our Ways Around Them: Indigenous Communities and Child Welfare Guidebook” (2020), online (pdf): <https://www.nntc.ca/documents/WOW_Guidebook_2021_210214.pdf> at 109.
 Ibid at 124.
 Choate, P & McKenzie, A. “Psychometrics in Parenting Capacity Assessments: A problem for Aboriginal parents” (2015) 10:2 An Interdisciplinary Journal 31 at 1.