Indigenous Justice is Justice
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
This month, we have discussed the child welfare system and its adverse and disproportionate effects on Indigenous peoples. There is an unbearable heaviness in the knowing. For once we know, we can never not, and that means we also have a profound responsibility to do better. For ourselves, for our communities, for our children.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission not only shone a light on the injustices of the child welfare system, but they also created a path forward for us all to do just that. Call to Action #4 calls upon the federal government to enact Aboriginal child welfare laws that affirm the Indigenous government's right to establish and maintain its own child welfare agencies.
Bill C-92 was the response.
This Act is the first statute to recognize inherent Indigenous jurisdiction over CFS as a constitutional right in Canada. It established minimum standards for child and family services for all Indigenous children and families as of January 1st, 2020. The Act applies to all Indigenous children regardless of whether they live on-reserve or off-reserve or if they are First Nations, non-status, Metis, or Inuit. Where there is conflict or inconsistency with provincial Acts, these national standards apply. They are the standard. A standard based on ways of knowing and teachings that our colonial institutions have largely ignored for more than a century.
As a second-year law student, I witnessed this firsthand. Only weeks ago, I attended my first Judicial Dispute Resolution regarding a child welfare case on the eve of the inaugural National Truth and Reconciliation Day, no less. The process was void of Indigenous ways of knowing, teachings, and culture from beginning to end. Intergenerational trauma, however, was the elephant in the room—the unspoken cloud.
And yet, the Court is responsible for treating each case as a unique issue, experience, and set of circumstances. I couldn't help but think that this was another way to individualize a group experience and absolve another colonial institution of responsibility for the intergenerational injustice that brought us to the Court this day.
The trauma that runs through our communities as Indigenous people is deep, but so are the teachings, the resiliency, the love, and the deep connection to one another. Wahkotowin.
This is the hope of Bill C-92.
Not the creation, but the affirmation. Not the solution, but the undoing of years of disregarding the ways already carried out in the everyday lives through the teachings passed down from generation to generation.
Bill C-92 represents a fundamental shift in our institutions. One that recognizes that justice exists in many ways, for many different people, through many different perspectives. There can be neither truth, reconciliation, nor justice unless we start to see a systemic change that values and engages with the intersection of these. This legislation is the first step in seeing our systems for what they are and tearing down the walls that have served to keep Indigenous knowledge and traditional child-raising practices out of the child welfare system systemically for generations.
So while we carry the heaviness of the truth with us, the work of Bill C-92 undertaken in Nations across the country gives us a reprieve, if only for a moment, to see what child welfare that is responsive, just, and accountable can look like for Indigenous peoples.
Until next time,
Artwork: Picking Berries" - Nokomis [https://www.native-art-in-canada.com/pickingberries.html]
 Canada, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, (Report) (Winnipeg: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2012).
 Dr. Hadley Friedland, Bill C-92 National Standards Guide for Legal Professionals (2020), online: Wahkotowin Lodge and Governance Lodge< https://www.ualberta.ca/wahkohtowin/media-library/data-lists-pdfs/bill-c92-national-standards-brief-for-legal.pdf>.