The number of First Nation children taken into care in Manitoba has surpassed 8,000.
This is more than the number of children who were placed in Indian residential schools each year at the worst of times. Something must be done to resolve this tragic situation.
Some people say we need to “fix the system” but we’ve been trying to do that for decades. Repairs were supposed to have been made leading up to the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry but somehow such obvious and egregious flaws as using low paid, poorly trained chaperones who barely speak English to look after kids in hotel rooms got overlooked.
How much fixing can you do to a system which includes police, jail guards, lawyers, prosecutors, judges, social workers, probation and parole officers, child care workers and more cemented into a well-established industry?
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs want to change the system completely by redirecting the approximately $6 billion expected to be spent over the next 10 years apprehending and holding aboriginal children in care. The AMC claims the money could instead be used to create care options within First Nations communities, but we can expect quite a backlash against turning money over to “the Chiefs.”
The AMC has offered a report called “Bringing our Children Home” which makes a lot of sense, mostly because it asked the right people the right questions. The report is based on testimony from children in the system, their parents and grandparents, and the front line care workers who work with them. Government reports usually depend on information from supervisors and their political masters which are screened and filtered and massaged and spun until it mostly serves simply to protect the existing system.
But AMC Grand Chief Nepinak says he doesn’t expect the government to accept recommendations, therefore, First Nation political groups throughout the province have signed an agreement to “deconstruct” the system.
Ultimately, I guess some negotiations will take place and compromises will be reached and funds will be redirected. But if we really need a new system and that is really what First Nations say will solve the problem, they won’t get a big enough share of that $6 billion to pay for it.
There is one First Nations group which has an entirely different answer. They want to reject any government funding and rebuild their families and communities on their own.
This group maintains that First Nations are among the wealthiest people in Canada and they can solve their problems on their own.
The National Indigenous Council of Elders (NICE) is an organization that consists of experienced and respected First Nation elders from across Canada who have dedicated themselves to “the creation of wealth that will make First Nations independent of government funding.”
NICE is the brainchild of Winnipeg’s Marion Ironquill Meadmore, the first Indian woman in Canada to be called to the bar, a founder of the Friendship Centre movement and the National Indian Brotherhood (forerunner of the Assembly of First Nations) and much more. This Order of Canada recipient is indicative of the quality of leadership NICE provides.
They offer a whole new way of thinking. Radical and revolutionary. Which seems ironic coming from a group of old people, as it were.
$500B in trusts
They point to such things as so-called Indian trusts and the $500 billion (at least) which belongs to First Nations people in Canada. And yes, that’s billions of dollars, not millions.
These trusts have been developing since treaties were signed and there are new trusts developing every year. In Manitoba alone, you can point to trust funds from land claims and other settlements such as the ones which have been set up to benefit the people of Peguis First Nation ($126 million), Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation ($80 million) and Mathias Colomb Cree Nation ($17 million). That is just part of a long list.
Some of this money can be used for investments but most of it is held in trust, managed by banks and other asset managers in “safe, low interest-bearing” accounts.
There is even a general trust fund which has been administered by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs which totals in the billions. This money is generally farmed out to Consolidated Revenues at two per cent interest.
NICE maintains that First Nations could do better if they could access and invest these Indian trusts themselves, but there is a paternalistic attitude that sets rules to protect First Nations.
First Nations were excluded from the original resource extraction and development that produced towns like Thompson, Flin Flon and The Pas. NICE claims that impoverished communities like Shamattawa will no longer exist if First Nations can’t be equity partners in their traditional lands. There are $650 billion worth of mining projects projected in western Canada which require First Nation cooperation, and they are willing to listen to ideas that are sustainable and fair.
Urban reserves, gaming, international inter-tribal trade, land, water, the assets and ideas for the creation of wealth – it’s astounding. And NICE is actively developing those ideas through forums it sponsors throughout the country that bring the best and the brightest to advise and strategize. Their latest forum on trusts was held last week in Calgary.
The bottom line is to use the wealth that exists within First Nations to rebuild communities and families.
So, if what is really needed to resolve the tragically high number of First Nations children coming into care is for First Nations to have the money to pay for their own Child and Family Services independent of outside government rules and regulations and funding, let’s try something truly new and different.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer and the Editor of Grassroots News.