Here's how Cowessess will use $38M to develop its child welfare program

The federal government committed $38.7 million to Cowessess First Nation to assist with the development of its historic child welfare program.

On Tuesday, Cowessess was legally transferred jurisdiction over its children in care. This marks the first time that control of child and family services has been restored to an Indigenous community under federal law.

Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme said that money will help get the programs at the new Chief Red Bear Children’s Lodge off the ground.

“This capital investment is going to help us with our start-up costs,” Delorme said, in an interview with CTV Morning Live Regina. “This money is going to take us to control our own destiny, to create our own programs, which are already being created and implemented.”

“Finally, it is going to allow us to make sure that we can invest our culture and our means and our ideology into making sure that one day there’s no children in care.”

The Miyo Pimatisowin Act, which was ratified by Cowessess residents in March 2020, asserts the community’s right to care for children and families in need. The Act is a stepping-stone in the community’s effort to create its own plan for self-governance. It is the first of its kind in Canada.

The act was made possible by the signing of Bill C-92, an Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, giving Indigenous communities the ability to affirm and recognize jurisdiction over child and family services.

Prior to Bill C-92, Delorme said the community did not have decision making power when it came to Cowessess children in care. Now, the First Nation has legal jurisdiction and control over those cases.

“The moment that the phone is picked up, the moment the investigation call is given, the moment that prevention is required, that answer of that phone will be from Chief Red Bear Children’s Lodge, which is a Cowessess organization,” Delorme said.

“From the moment of that first call, that string is connected to home.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe joined Delorme and other members of the community at the Cowessess Powwow grounds on Tuesday to sign a coordination agreement under the federal Act.

Under the Act, which has been in force since Jan. 2020, a request must be made to enter into a coordination agreement in order for an Indigenous law on child and family services to prevail over any conflicting federal, provincial or regional laws.

“We'll ensure that as we move forward kids get the support they need, and the protection they need, driven by their own communities, in their own languages in their cultures so that no kids will be removed from the communities that they're a part of,” Trudeau said Tuesday.

According to the prime minister’s office, 38 Indigenous governments, representing more than 100 communities, are seeking to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services under the Act. Eighteen coordination agreement discussions are underway.

At the signing event Tuesday, Delorme spoke about bringing Cowessess children home. He specified however, that does not necessarily mean physically bringing them back into the community.

“We have some great foster homes right now raising our children. We are just going to make sure that children have a cultural plan, a kinship plan, and if we feel that repatriation is in the best interest for the child’s long term goal, then that is something we have the authorization to do now,” Delorme said.

Delorme said the ultimate goal of the program is to one day have no children left in the welfare system.

With files from CTV News Regina's Michaela Solomon