by Spencer Kemp
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, came together last Tuesday to sign a co-ordination agreement that will see Cowessess First Nation be responsible for children in care for the first time since 1951. The co-ordination agreement will transfer jurisdiction to Cowessess.
In March of 2020, the Cowessess First Nation ratified the Miyo Pimatisowin Act to return children to the care of the Cowessess First Nation.
says it is time to heal
“Before treaties, our ancestors roamed this land,” Chief Cadmus Delorme said at the signing ceremony Tuesday.
“There were no children in care, there was no unemployment, everybody had a role, everybody had a duty, and everybody had a purpose. At the time of treaty, Cowessess First Nation, what we envisioned was the following: two canoes going down the river, the Crown—which today is represented by our Prime Minister and our Premier—and the Cowessess First Nation canoe, side-by-side. We were supposed to flow down this river together, every generation exchanging a child to know the ideology of that other canoe and then give those children back so we always coincided. Unfortunately today we inherited a history where that didn’t happen. In our Cowessess canoe at one time was the Indian Act which is still here today. At one time the residential school was put in our canoe. At one time the ‘60s Scoop was put in our canoe. Our Cowessess citizens fought, our leaders fought, to make sure our kids could still dance today.
“Today we all inherited that. Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Moe, and all their team didn’t create this. We all inherited this today.
“Because of that, we have a little bit of loss of control, a little bit of loss of language, a little bit of loss of governance, and a little bit of loss of our social and even our individual lives.
“One of the major things that happened is what you call ‘vertical lineage passdown.’ If residential schools, ‘60s Scoop, or the Indian Act weren’t here, kookum would have passed down to mum, mum would have passed down to daughter and daughter would have passed down to granddaughter as it should have been. But because of four generations of residential schools, it became horizontal. Kookum had to stand beside her cousin to survive, mum had to stand beside her sister and cousin to survive, and today that lineage is coming back, that vertical lineage, one day at a time we are gaining control because of the federal government investing with Cowessess, we now farm our lands again.
“Because Premier Moe and the Government of Saskatchewan work with Cowessess for renewable energy, we’re about to build a 10-megawatt solar field and we have turbines. We are gaining strength one day at a time.
“But as we move forward, we have a lot of healing to do.
“Today we give birth to a new horizon, Chief Redbear Children’s Lodge. Today is a historical day because we never gave up our sovereignty to our children. And today, with the Prime Minister of Canada and the Premier of Saskatchewan, we are going to sign a co-ordination agreement. What that means is that Prime Minister Trudeau stands beside Cowessess and invests in us as we heal at our pace.
“Premier Moe stands beside us as Cowessess First Nation and invests at our pace as we grow. The end goal is that one day there will be no children in care. I’m 39 years old and I hope that happens in my lifetime.
“But Cowessess, we have a lot of work to do. Every day we will roll up our sleeves to make sure that every child when we call them home, they know where home is. And that is Cowessess First Nation and they will dance, they will get their education, and they will walk with their chin up and they will be a proud Cowessess citizen.”
to continue to support
Cowessess First Nation
“It is truly an honour to be here on this historic moment,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
“I am very glad I’m joined by Premier Moe, it’s good to have you here and it’s important that we be here as partners. As a country and as a government we’ve been reminded over the past few weeks that the path to reconciliation means recognizing past wrongs and working to do better. It is shameful that here in Cowessess and across the country children died because of the policy of residential schools. Later today I will be visiting the site of unmarked graves to pay my respects and sitting down with many of you to hear your stories as survivors.
“The work of reconciliation won’t transform Indigenous communities alone and Indigenous people in Canada alone, the work of reconciliation must and will transform all of Canada and all Canadians, that’s the work we have to do together. Of course, as we do that, it needs to start with children. That is the heartbreaking awakening that Canadians have had across the country with the discovery of these graves. That’s why we’re here today, to do better for this generation and future generations and families. Together with Cowessess First Nation and Saskatchewan, the Government of Canada is signing the first-ever co-ordination agreement respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Metis youth, and families. That has been the work of reconciliation that communities like Cowessess have led on over the past many years, that we can come together and sign this today mere weeks after the tragic discoveries.
“The kids need to be kept by, supported by, protected by their communities. We co-developed legislation called C-92 that will ensure that as we move forward, kids get the support they need, driven by their own communities in their own languages in their own cultures, that finally no kids will be removed from the communities they are a part of. That is the goal. That is why we are signing the agreement, the very first across the country to start today in Cowessess. Never again should kids be taken from their homes, families, and communities. To support this agreement, we are investing $38.7 million for the implementation of the Cowessess First Nations Child and Family Services system. This is an important step forward and at the end of the day, it will mean fewer children and youth in care. Across the country we are working with other First Nations on similar agreements, my commitment is that we will continue to work with, as a partner, all communities on what they need to keep their children safe and thriving.
“Earlier today, Chief Delorme graciously accepted a braid of sweetgrass in honor of today’s agreement.
“It is my pledge to work in partnership and unity with all groups to make this goal a reality. We will continue to walk the path of reconciliation and respond to the priorities of Indigenous people on child and family services reform. We will, every step of the way, be there as partners to focus on what’s best for your children, for all of our children. That’s what they need, and that’s what they deserve.”
Moe applauds Delorme’s efforts
“Welcome everyone to celebrate what is truly a historic partnership between three levels of government here at Cowessess,” said Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. “These have not been easy times, these last number of weeks have not been easy times here in Cowessess, they have not been easy times in Saskatchewan or across Canada. I am here and pleased to be part of this agreement today in your community.
“I’m also here to ensure that this community in Cowessess and other communities across the province know that Saskatchewan people send their love, send their prayers, and send their gratitude to Cowessess. I want you to know that as we walk through the next number of days, weeks, months, years, that we’re going to do that together.
“We as Saskatchewan people will be here with you every step of the way, regardless of where that road takes us. Your healing journey is our healing journey as well. As Chief Delorme so eloquently put it, none of us living here today created the residential school system, none of us created the Indian Act, none of us here today.
“But all of us have a duty as we move forward and look ahead to work together, to deal with the consequences and decisions made generations ago. We have a duty, we have an obligation to build a brighter future for all of us. We can do that and we can do that together. It’s what brings us together here this afternoon, the desire to build a brighter future together with this community, not even for us, but for that next generation, for our children and our grandchildren. We are very proud to be part of this today. It is truly, as the Prime Minister said, a groundbreaking agreement that will give Cowessess control over child and family services that are delivered to your children and delivered to community members wherever they live. It is an agreement that will ensure the children of Cowessess are raised by their families in their own community, their own culture in accordance with their own traditions. Today is the culmination of many months of negotiations by many levels of government, negotiations that were driven by Chief Cadmus Delorme who was absolutely determined to see this agreement through today and see Cowessess exert its independence in this area, and thank you for your determination, Chief.
“Prime Minister, I want to thank you and your colleagues for the passing of Bill C-92. The legislation opened the door for us to have these negotiations and ultimately have this agreement, this celebration to move forward together here today.
“I am very grateful for our provincial colleagues, my provincial colleagues who worked together on this agreement. It started with Paul Merriman who’s since moved off to brighter pastures in the Health portfolio and Lori Carr who brought those negotiations together on behalf of the province, and to all of the provincial officials, federal officials, and all those in Cowessess who have worked to ensure this could happen here today.
“We have been through some trying days in the last few weeks. There are difficult days ahead of us no doubt as we continue to deal with the legacy of residential schools in our nation. Today’s announcement is a ray of hope, it’s a ray of hope for Cowessess, it’s a ray of hope for other Indigenous communities in Canada, it’s a ray of hope for our province of Saskatchewan, and I would say it is a ray of hope for our entire nation, and it is no surprise that this hope is originating here in this community of Cowessess. This is a progressive community.
“Cowessess is most certainly a community that is on the move, working in partnership with the provincial and federal governments, and what’s happening here has the opportunity to be replicated in other Indigenous communities across the nation.
“I think that your ancestors are extremely proud of what you have done here today, Chief Cadmus Delorme, and I think that they are proud of this entire community. I think I can speak on behalf of everybody in this entire province when I say we are so very proud of the partnership we have created over the past number of years and the achievement that we see before us here today. Your ancestors are very proud, Chief, for very good reason.”
Buckles says agreement is a huge first step in reconciliation
“I think a lot about my people and the horrors we’ve endured for decades, centuries even,” said Cowessess Youth Council Chair Mia Buckles.
“All the hurt, fear, and guilt that we feel and conceal from those around us, the effects these hardships have had on our ancestors and our present generations are undeniable and indescribable.
“In Saskatchewan, 86 per cent of children in care are identified as First Nations. Eighty-six per cent. One hundred fifty of those children are from Cowessess and it’s their time to receive the opportunity to come home and heal with their families on their own land through a holistic approach.
“Cowessess is taking on a huge leadership role for First Nations across Canada in a walk toward lowering these numbers, which also plays a role in lowering incarceration numbers in First Nations.
“Intergenerational trauma is very real, I recognize it in my life, in others’ lives around me, it plays a huge role in why so many of our people end up in foster care, incarcerated, addicted, and uneducated.
“This is a beautiful new pathway opening to our children and their children. Our nation has worked extremely hard to create our own family and childcare system and maintain jurisdiction over the care of our children and families.
“I am so proud to say I am from Cowessess First Nation today. After years of our children being taken and separated from our families, culture, and ultimately their sense of self, we are one step closer to breaking one of the many generation curses that bind us.
“With the start of our family and child services system, our children and families affected by intergenerational trauma and other struggles will have an opportunity to heal in every aspect, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
“I personally have a large disconnect from my culture.
“I found it really affected my sense of self. I do not know my language, I have minimum knowledge on ceremonies, our stories, and our way of life.
“Chief Redbear Children’s Lodge will work proactively to prevent children and families from going into care. They will be provided safe living and access to their culture.
“This is a huge first step that will lead the Indigenous people of Canada into a brighter future.
“Teaching our people our culture and what it truly means to be Indigenous, not the statistics, not the stereotypes, but us.
“A beautiful and powerful nation who we always have been and always will be. We are the leaders in a long-fought battle for the rights and comforts of our people.
“Soon after us, I hope that other First Nations communities will follow in our footsteps and fight to gain the ability to care for and assist their families and children in need to a healthy and happy life.
“We are strong. We are resilient. Our people may have been silenced, pushed to the side, and buried, but we will always come back stronger and louder than ever before.
Spencer Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator