Founding First Nations sign agreement with Canada, Alberta to run own child and family services

Three nations in northern Alberta have signed a “historic agreement” with Canada and Alberta that will have them run their own child and family services. It is the first trilateral agreement in the province.

The co-ordination agreement signed by the Founding First Nations — Loon River First Nation, Lubicon Lake Band and Peerless Trout First Nation — follows the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families which came into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and will give life to Awaśak Wiyasiwêwin (Children’s Law).

According to the federal government, 53.8 per cent of children in foster care are Indigenous, but they account for only 7.7 per cent of the child population.

“For generations, federal and provincial governments have systemically asserted policies that caused pain, hardship and intergenerational trauma for First Nation children and their families. That’s finally starting to change,” said Loubicon Lake Band Chief Billy Joe Laboucan in a press release.

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“Today’s announcement represents a turning point … setting the stage for a brighter future grounded in our own law, our own vision and our own path to heal our children and families.”

Read more: Louis Bull Tribe signs deal with Ottawa allowing it to run its own child welfare system

On Nov. 20, 2021, members of each of the Founding First Nations voted in favour of Awaśak Wiyasiwêwin a culturally relevant community-driven law that reflects the best ways to care for their children, youth and families.

A press release sent out by the federal government on Tuesday said the law will “focus at all times on prevention to ensure that culturally appropriate, wrap-around, community-driven supports and services are available … so that children can stay with their families and their communities.”

Earlier this year, Louis Bull Tribe signed a similar agreement that put child and family services in its hands; theirs, however, left out the provincial government and is a two-year bilateral agreement.

Click to play video: '‘A historical day’: Alberta First Nation inks deal with Ottawa, takes jurisdiction of child welfare'

‘A historical day’: Alberta First Nation inks deal with Ottawa, takes jurisdiction of child welfare

Tuesday’s press release did not mention a financial commitment from Alberta but said the agreement will lay out how all parties will work together, including roles and responsibilities, processes and coordination of services.

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Alberta’s Minister of Children’s Services, Mickey Amery, said in a press conference: “We are pleased to provide our support and commitment with funding in the transition process and will make sure to do what we can to protect our children along the way … our children deserve to be safe, supported and connected to their communities.”

Over the next five years, the agreement will see the federal government transfer $149.4 million to the Founding First Nations to support their law implementation.

This is not the first coordination agreement of its kind – beyond the Louis Bull Tribe agreement in Alberta, there are others in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia, including Cowessess First Nation, Wabaseemoong Independent Nations, Peguis First Nation, Secwépemc Nation.

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The act was challenged by Quebec in September 2021, the province argued it was unconstitutional for the federal government to disrupt provincial authority over public service.

The Court of Appeal found two sections unconstitutional which would give Indigenous laws paramountcy over conflicting or inconsistent provincial laws.

Quebec’s challenge currently awaits determination in Canada’s Supreme Court and Alberta is an intervener.

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The Attorney General of Alberta writes, “This framework and the associated legislative authority are predicated on Parliament’s unilateral affirmation of an inherent right of self-government. Such a unilateral affirmation trenches on provincial jurisdiction, is ultra vires Parliament and inconsistent with s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.”

At Tuesday’s press conference, Minister Amery said, “It is a privilege to be signing Alberta’s first trilateral agreement which represents steps to true and meaningful reconciliation and a dedication to the well-being of our children.”

“Cultural and family connections are the absolute and utmost importance … as long as I’m minister this will be my priority every single time.”

Read more: 11-year-old dead by suicide, one of 13 who’ve died in Alberta child welfare system so far this year

Tuesday’s announcement is heralded by Loon River First Nation Chief Ivan Sawan as “truly groundbreaking.”

In a press release, he said, “It enables Loon River First Nation to exit the provincial system and implement our own law, control our own funding at a level that ends decades of discrimination.”

“Now we can truly focus on prevention, culture, language, health, wellness and meaningful First Nation-led services that help our families stay together, wherever they live, right across the province.”

&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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