Indigenous Child Welfare Legislation: A Historical Change or Another Paper Tiger?
For millennia before colonization, First Nations laws regarding children flourished across what is now known as Canada. These laws were ignored by colonial forces who imposed their own version of child welfare on First Nations families. This resulted in what the 2015 final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) called “cultural genocide.” The reassertion of First Nations laws that are derived through community consultation processes presents a promising alternative to the reliance on provincial or territorial laws that apply today.
On November 30, 2018, Minister Philpott of Indigenous Services Canada, accompanied by leaders from the Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami announced that the federal government would table historic “Indigenous” child welfare legislation in the House of Commons, early in 2019 (Indigenous Services Canada, 2018). It seems like good news but will it really build healthy families and, over time, reduce the over-representation of First Nations children in care or is it another colonial paper tiger? The answer is – it depends. But red flags are already flying, such as the pan-Indigenous approach, the lack of a clear funding base, and a lack of attention to the child welfare needs among and between First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.