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The Path Forward: Cowessess First Nation & Child Welfare

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

This week, we are talking about the revitalization of Indigenous legal traditions, and the path forward with reconciliation. Today’s post is about the coordination agreement regarding child welfare, recently entered into by Cowessess First Nation, Saskatchewan, and the federal government.

Coordination agreements can be signed when an Indigenous community exercises their inherent jurisdiction over child welfare under the Bill C-92 framework. [1] These agreements set out the “relationship between the various governments, and the mechanisms to support the Indigenous community exercising their inherent law-making power.” [2]

Cowessess First Nation has made their own child welfare legislation under Bill C-92, and has been working to reclaim their rightful jurisdiction over child welfare. [3] The coordination agreement entered into by Cowessess First Nation was the first of its kind in Canada, and provided them with a way to reclaim their inherent right to look after the children of their nation.[4]

Cowessess First Nation’s law, the Miyo Pimatisowin Act, has been in force since April 2021. This act enables Cowessess to “exercise their jurisdiction in relation to child and family services,” and decide what’s best for their children, families, and community. [5]

The reclaimed jurisdiction is extremely important for child and family matters, because of the long history in Canada of colonial governments failing Indigenous communities. Colonial governments have, for decades, separated Indigenous families, and taken children from their loved ones, language, culture, and sense of self. Colonialism has also played a role in the disturbingly high and growing numbers of unmarked graves found at residential school grounds, including the 751 unmarked graves that Cowessess discovered at the former Marieval Indian Residential School. [6] The current colonial system is also highly criticized for failing to address the issue of the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care, and for failing to provide for the cultural needs of Indigenous children in the system.[7]

The Miyo Pimatisowin Act is a step towards reconciliation, and one which addresses some of the issues with the current system. For example, the act focuses on preventative measures that reduce “the need for child apprehension,” and on “keeping children with their families, whether it’s an immediate or extended family member within the community.” [8]

As stated by Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme, the Cowessess child welfare law was created to ensure that the best interests of the child were the number one priority, and that there would be “prevention services, not intervention services.” [9]

The legislation and the coordination agreement work to fulfill the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action #1-5, which include calls to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care, to address the causes of overrepresentation, and to recognize the rights that Indigenous governments have regarding child welfare jurisdiction. [10]

There have been multiple successes since Cowessess First Nation has reclaimed responsibility over child services. [11] For example, Cowessess began the creation of the Chief Red Bear Children’s Lodge, which now provides “traditional and cultural healing supports to Cowessess community members, as protection and prevention measures related to family services.” [12] Children in care have also been returned to their families where possible, and given support for “good family plans.” [13] With the responsibility for child welfare back with the nation, there has also been enough support in place so that mothers can go back to school and continue pursuing their education, while still caring for their children at home and in the community. [14]

Indigenous nations have inherent jurisdiction over their child welfare laws, and to me, it’s very clear that communities and children benefit when this jurisdiction is exercised and reclaimed. Cowessess First Nation’s coordination agreement has shown successes so far, and has inspired other First Nations to reclaim their jurisdiction over child welfare. [15]

Agreements and legislation, such as those discussed in today’s post, which work towards the realization of Indigenous self-government, are important steps on the path to reconciliation. Indigenous children deserve the best care, love, and support possible, and deserve healthy connections with their families, cultures, and communities. The best interests of Indigenous children can be provided for through Indigenous law, as “Indigenous laws have always prioritized and protected Indigenous children’s immediate and life-long best interests,” and “children are at the heart of Indigenous societies.” [16]

Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG

[1] “Two more First Nations sign historic coordination agreements under Bill C-92 framework” (15 February 2023), online: MLT Aikins <>.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “How Cowessess First Nation's historic child welfare agreement with Canada and Saskatchewan works” (9 July 2021), online: CBC News <>.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “New support for child and family services in Cowessess First Nation” (6 July 2021), online: Government of Canada <>.

[6] “Cowessess finds success through new child welfare program” (7 January 2022), online: On the Rocks <>.

[7] “Cowessess First Nation becomes 1st to control its child welfare system. Here’s how it works” (6 July 2021), online: Global News <>.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Supra note 6.

[10] “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action” (2015) at 1, online (pdf): <>.

[11] “Cowessess FN shares successful results of child welfare takeover” (7 January 2022), online: SaskToday <>.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Supra note 6.

[15] Supra note 3.

[16] Naiomi Walqwan Metallic et al., “An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Children, Youth and Families: Does Bill C-92 Make the Grade?” (2019) at 5, online (pdf): Yellowhead Institute <>.

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