Manitoba CFS a new version of residential schools, says MKO grand chief

Just days after the federal government pledged tens of billions of dollars to reform child welfare systems on First Nations communities, a northern Manitoba grand chief said child and family services (CFS) will never improve until First Nations have control over those systems.

“What the child welfare system has done is create a system that took over from the residential school system and put it into another entity,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said, while addressing Manitoba First Nations leaders on Thursday.

“The monster that was the residential school is now CFS.”

On Tuesday, a judge approved a $23-billion dollar settlement that will have Ottawa compensate more than 300,000 First Nations children and their families for the chronic underfunding of on-reserve child-welfare services.

In addition to that settlement, the feds have also pledged an additional $20 billion to reform the child welfare system on First Nations communities.

This week Manitoba First Nations leaders gathered at the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) Annual General Assembly and on Thursday SCO invited Settee, the leader of a northern Manitoba First Nations advocacy group, to speak at the event.

With billions in funding promised by the feds to fix child welfare systems on First Nations, Settee said he believes leaders in southern and northern Manitoba need to start working more cooperatively to take control over CFS systems in communities across the province.

“The system is created by entities that have no idea how we live and how we exist, and I think we are at a point where we, as leaders of our nations, need to tell the government what it is that they need to do,” Settee said.

“I look forward to when they no longer decide for us what they think is best for us. We have to tell them what is best for us, because only we know how we live in our First Nations and the realities that we face every day.”

In 2020, the federal government created a path for First Nations communities in Canada to take control over their CFS systems when they introduced an act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.

According to the feds, the act “affirms the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services.”

In January of this year, the Peguis First Nation became the first First Nations community in Manitoba to take control of their child welfare under the legislation.

One of Settee’s priorities will be to stop children from being taken out of First Nations communities and placed in non-First Nations homes.

“That has got to stop, and we must tell the government no more,” he said. “We will take care of them, and we will look after them in a culturally appropriate manner.”

Currently, in Manitoba, it is estimated that as many as 90% of the approximately 12,000 youth in care identify as Indigenous.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun