The Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) issued a Directive on Thursday ensuring the rights of First Nation parents coming into contact with child welfare are prioritized and communicated.
The Directive was issued to the Southern First Nations Network of Care requiring their child and family service personnel to verbally inform First Nation parents of their rights regarding their children when attending to child protection matters. “Many southern First Nation parents do not know their rights when dealing with Child and Family Services (CFS),” said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.
“With today’s Directive, we are confident that fewer children will be apprehended and that family placements will be prioritized so that children will remain closer to their cultural and community ties. This will ensure that southern First Nation children will have better outcomes.”
SCO’s Directive will ensure that parents are aware of their rights, and will empower them to assert their rights when working with an agency.
“This Directive is a very positive step for our southern First Nation families,” said Chief Deborah Smith of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.
“Making it mandatory for social workers to read the Bill of Rights to parents is akin to police reading rights to an individual upon arrest. I believe that we will see positive impacts from this Directive for years to come. Everyone must be made aware of their rights for positive change to occur.”
There are about 11,000 children in care in the province, and about 90% are Indigenous. Southern Manitoba First Nation children account for more than 50% of the children in care in Manitoba, which is the highest number of Indigenous children in care in Canada.
In many cases, parents are not aware of their rights when dealing with CFS. By knowing their rights, parents can begin to assert it when navigating an intimidating child welfare system.
“Many parents are overwhelmed with fear when approached by child welfare workers. They do not realize that they have choices and can provide input into the care of their children. This Directive will ensure that families stay connected whenever possible,” said Dakota Plains Vice-Chief Donny Smoke.
In addition to the Directive, SCO’s Daniels commended the Manitoba Human Rights Commission for instructing the province of Manitoba to pay an Anishinaabe family $42,500 in damages over its inability to provide health care services. On Monday, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission ruled the province as being discriminatory against a disabled Anishinaabe child and his mother based on their ancestry and his disability. “All First Nation peoples have the inalienable human right to equitable access to health care. This case is one example of how First Nation peoples face systemic discrimination throughout the health care system. Thankfully, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission has recognized this discrimination faced by First Nation peoples in their decision this week,” said Daniels. In 2010, Harriet Sumner-Pruden and her son, Alfred "Dewey" Pruden filed a complaint stating how Dewey’s health care needs were denied, delayed, or intermittent. Dewey suffers from various neurological disorders including Sturge-Weber syndrome, a progressive neurological disorder. The family is from Pinaymootang First Nation. “We thank the Manitoba Human Rights Commission for their careful consideration of this issue. The province will be closely reviewing this decision to determine our next steps, including discussions within our departments, the federal government and Indigenous leadership,” a province of Manitoba spokesperson said.
Nicole Wong covers northern and Indigenous issues for the Winnipeg Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.
Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun