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Politics ᐊ ᓃᑳᓂᔅᑭᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐊᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

Supreme Court upholds Indigenous jurisdiction over child welfare laws

BY Joshua Janke Feb 26, 2024

The Supreme Court of Canada announced its unanimous judgment affirming the constitutional validity of the Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families (Bill C-92) on February 9.

Bill C-92 was enacted by Parliament in 2019 and came into force on January 1, 2020. It recognizes Indigenous jurisdiction and law-making power over “child and family services” (in Quebec, youth protection services) as part of an inherent Aboriginal right to self-government under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Bill C-92 also establishes national standards applicable to child and family services for Indigenous children.

The Grand Council of the Crees welcomed the ruling, stating: “This is a landmark step toward ensuring healthier and stronger Indigenous families and communities, and it advances reconciliation with non-Indigenous people in Canada. While it takes a village to raise a child, today the Indigenous villages and communities have had their right to raise that child affirmed in Canadian law.”

In 2022, Quebec challenged the validity of Bill C-92 as unconstitutional before the Quebec Court of Appeal. It argued that child and family services are a matter of exclusive provincial jurisdiction; and secondly, the federal government cannot through legislation like Bill C-92 unilaterally recognize Indigenous law-making power in this area without first obtaining the consent of the province. 

With its recent decision, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Quebec, upholding the federal government’s Indigenous child welfare law and affirming Indigenous Peoples’ jurisdiction over child and family services.

“Our peoples have compromised enough,” said Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard, in reaction to the ruling. A group of children wearing ribbon skirts, kokum scarves and ribbon shirts sat in front of him as he spoke.It’s time now for other governments to do the same.”

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak called the decision a significant step forward. “First Nations have never surrendered their jurisdiction over their children and families, which has existed since time immemorial,” she said. 

First Nations continue to have the inherent and constitutional right to care for our children and families and the sacred rights from the Creator to raise our children surrounded by our cultures, languages and traditions,” Woodhouse Nepinak added.

Mary Teegee, chair of the Indigenous Child and Family Services Directors Forum, said the ruling provides Indigenous Peoples with a powerful legal tool that reaffirms their inherent right to care for their children “in the right way, the Indigenous way,” she stated. 

“Every step that we take, every win that we make, is getting us truer to that place, closer to that place where we’re going to be having the authority, if you will, to develop laws in all realms, all the different parts of our society,” Teegee explained. 

Today is really for our children. I think of all the ones who are no longer with us, the ones who died in horrific situations within care, the ones who were never able to go home because they were in stranger care. This win is for them.”

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Joshua Janke lives in Montreal and is studying English Literature at Mcgill University. He is passionate about writing, social justice, and creating art.