Hailed as a “life-changing” piece of legislation, Bill C-92 – An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families – has become a point of contention between First Nations groups and organizations across the country.
Introduced in February, the bill currently sits in the committee stage in the House of Commons as pressure mounts on lawmakers to adopt it before Parliament is dissolved ahead of next fall’s election.
Bill C-92 aims to restore control of child welfare to First Nations, to stop using poverty as a justification to apprehend Indigenous children, and to stress cultural continuity when an Indigenous child is put into the system.
However, some First Nations and organizations are questioning whether the legislation will deliver on its promises.
Chiefs from Treaty 6, 7 and 8 territories (Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia) are calling for a national day of action on May 27 to protest C-92. Among their concerns is how funding could be delegated through the provinces once the bill is made law, and a perceived lack of consultation by the federal government during its drafting.
“Canada continues to choose unilateral actions over developing meaningful partnership with our Nations while publicly flaunting this idea of co-development of law and policy,” Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson said in a statement. “The reality on the ground is Canada develops policy in secret… leaving us out of these discussions. Our people are concerned about what they see happening.”
Further east, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) have been a critic of the proposed legislation from its outset. In February, AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging his government to work with Manitoba’s Indigenous leadership on a joint process. The AMC has also developed their own “Bringing Our Children Home Act,” which they say is more province-specific.
In 2018, the total number of Indigenous children in care in Manitoba decreased for the first time in 15 years. However, Indigenous children continued to represent 87% of the province’s 10,328 children in care.
On May 10, a grandmothers’ walk was held in Winnipeg in support of mothers and grandmothers who’ve had children taken by the province’s child welfare system and to protest Bill C-92.
But not everyone in the province is opposed to the legislation. Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) – an organization representing the southern Manitoba First Nations – has come out in support of C-92.
“We’re in support of it because we represent quite a few communities who are wanting to work with the proposed legislation and who want to see results as soon as possible,” Daniels told the Nation. “Any legislation is going to be subject to review and amendments that will happen over time, but as it stands I think it’s a good document that is going to work to create community control of child welfare.”
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) also continues to be one of C-92’s staunchest supporters.
“Bill C-92 is focused on the safety, security and future of First Nations children in Canada, and it’s crucial this legislation pass before the end of June,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde to members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs on May 9.
“The impact of the status quo child welfare system is felt every day in our families and communities. There is no greater gift from the Creator than our children. They deserve to grow up valued and connected to their families, cultures and nations.”
However, National Chief Bellegarde along with Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Director of the Indian Residential School Centre for History and Dialogue, also proposed amendments to strengthen the bill’s wording.
According to their submission, the areas in need of strengthening include funding, following the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ensuring the best interests of the child as well as following Jordan’s Principle to ensure that First Nations children living on and off reserve have equitable access to all government-funded services.