This column is an opinion by Krista Mogridge, who is the Indigenous representative for Nunatsiavut's government. She lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
With discussions about residential schools and child welfare services in Labrador making headlines again, we should all be thinking about how we can work together to make sure that Indigenous children and families have what they need to be healthy and connected to community.
This is important right now and for generations in the future. And it's something I think about everyday.
I work for the Nunatsiavut government's Department of Health and Social Development in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. My role involves collaborating with families, community members and agencies to support cultural connections for Nunatsiavut Inuit children and youth who are in the care and custody of Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development.
Through this work, I see that colonization is not over. It's not part of history. For many Inuit families, it is still a force that continues to shape our lives.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) help put some context into the hardships Inuit people face in Canada, including the doubt that Inuit lack the capability to be self reliant. Institutions and systems have been built to undermine Inuit ways of knowing the world, communities and families. (To learn more about what ITK offers check out their website at About Canadian Inuit: Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.)
Suggesting that one way of doing something is better for Inuit than Inuit ways of knowing, and imposing this in services, is colonization.
Assessment tool poses risks for Inuit children
In my work it becomes evident that imposing western ways of child protection onto Inuit children, youth, families, communities and culture is harmful.
For instance, my colleague Darlene Jacque closely examined the risk assessment tool used in our province's child protection system. Darlene found that using the same assessment tool for the entire population of Newfoundland and Labrador poses a lot of risks for Inuit.
From her work, we get a greater understanding of the importance of having culturally safe tools that not only draw out risk but family and community strengths that are there to support children and families.
Additionally, she notes that these tools often make the assumption that there is a choice of available resources in all communities and environments to help support all the assessed risks. It is well known that resources within Nunatsiavut are challenging, basic needs such as housing being no exception.
For example, there is a high cost of living within Nunatsiavut, which can affect a family's ability to meet some basic needs. People may find themselves in a situation where they have to prioritize how or when to meet some basic needs like heating their home or purchasing food.
They may have to choose between overcrowded homes with individuals who are deemed unsafe by the child protection agency or finding themselves homeless.
Inuit living within Nunatsiavut are assessed by the child welfare agency with the same tools as a family living in St. John's, despite vastly different environments.
Resources must be culturally relevant
To support better outcomes and culturally supportive services for Inuit, there is a need to provide access to culturally relevant resources.
A lot of people have worked and continue to work very hard to support Inuit-led services. Nunatsiavut's Department of Health and Social Development's Family Services Division offers a voluntary program called Family Connections, which is a leading example of a successful Inuit-led program. Family Connections provides supports to Inuit families in any capacity that is requested, where there are resources available to support. Family Connections has positive working relationships with families, communities and agencies.
With Nunatsiavut demonstrating how successful Inuit-led programs are for Inuit, I can't help but imagine the benefits of an Inuit-led child welfare system for Inuit.
An Inuit-led child welfare system would allow Inuit to assess the needs of our own people and determine the most supportive solution, as a collective. An Inuit-led solution would be culturally appropriate, flexible and informal.
Removal of children from their families, communities and culture would be a last resort, and preventive services would be more readily available to support family and cultural connections.
Traditional Inuit practices would be supported. Traditionally, Inuit families, community members and elders were all a part of the circle of care provided for Inuit children and youth. Preservation of Inuit families, communities and culture was and continues to be essential for Nunatsiavut's government and Inuit.
Working toward the devolution of child welfare services is a goal of the Nunatsiavut government and something that has been seen as a priority.
While this is being worked on there is lots of room for collaboration and consultation to do what is best for Inuit children, youth, families, communities and culture.
If anyone is interested in learning more about the Family Connections program, feel free to contact:
Nain: Ben-Sue Merkuratsuak and/or Roxanne Barbour at 709-922-2126.
Hopedale: Cassi Vincent and/or Nicole Shuglo at 709-933-3894.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay: Tuttu Hunter and/or Ashley Andersen at 709-896-6764.