Many First Nations developing child welfare program after historic first at Cowessess

Many Indigenous communities in Canada are looking to take back jurisdiction over children in care after a historic announcement at the Cowessess First Nation.

The Saskatchewan First Nation took back control over its child welfare system with an agreement signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Scott Moe and Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme.

A first in Canada, Premier Moe said the transfer of control brings us further down the path towards reconciliation.

“Really putting forward a plan, I think, that will be able to be replicated across this province and across this nation,” said Moe at the announcement on 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.

The Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth Lisa Broda said they are all at different stages of the process.

“We can see a strong community at Cowessess that has worked hard the past year to prepare and create the infrastructure to show Canada, really and beyond, that communities are ready,” said Broda. “They’re working hard and they’re ready to care, support, protect their people, their children, their young people and this is critical as we move forward.”

Pasqua First Nation is one of many who have their own child welfare system in the works.

Chief Matthew T. Peigan said they are using the provincial system as a guide and making formal changes that suit their nation and people.

Pasqua's legislation is currently being crafted with the writing of policies and procedures, which is a long and meticulous process with children spread out all over the country, said Chief Peigan.

In the meantime, they are working on expanding their school and access to elders to ensure they are prepared to take the children in once their legislation is implemented.

Chief Peigan has been involved with child welfare sine the early 1990s and said he has heard many nations across the country talk about implementing their own child welfare program during that time.

“I would highly and strongly recommend that each First Nation take this on in order to look after your own children,” said Chief Peigan.