Manitoba holds off on signing agreement on Indigenous child welfare

On January 26th, provincial ministers assembled in Ottawa for an emergency meeting to sign a final agreement to transform a “broken” First Nations child welfare system. The ministers decided to hold off on signing, citing that more time was needed to consider the fundamental reforms that the federal government was proposing. Manitoba’s Families Minister, Scott Fielding, cited that he did not sign in part because he had yet to consult local Indigenous leadership.

Prior to the emergency meeting the Indigenous Services Minister, Jane Philpott, had unveiled an action plan which would have required the provinces to “draw down”jurisdiction on First Nations child welfare, essentially meaning that provinces would eventually be required to hand over control over child welfare to Indigenous communities.

The six-point action plan follows concerns that the current system of regularly seizing children from their families and communities will replicate the mistakes of the Indian residential school system and the Sixties scoop, as it alienates children from their traditional language, culture, and support networks. The current system tends to favour apprehension rather than prevention of the family problems that give rise to this need for foster care or adoption.

Philpott has previously stated that she has concerns with Manitoba’s plans for reform its First Nations child welfare system. Specifically, she stated that she believes incentives to encourage non-Indigenous families to adopt First Nations children should be avoided to avoid the mistakes of the past.

This issue is particularly pressing in Manitoba as Indigenous children are over-represented in the foster care system. While less than 8 per cent of all Canadian children aged four and under are Indigenous, they accounted for 90 per cent of preschoolers in foster care in the province.