How the historic Cowessess First Nation child welfare agreement with Canada and Saskatchewan works

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The Cowessess First Nation claimed its inherent right to care for its own children by signing a coordination agreement with Saskatchewan and the federal government on Tuesday.

The historic signing – the first of its kind in the country – was attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister Scott Moe and Cowessess Leader Cadmus Delorme.

The ceremony, which began with a powwow and ended with a victory dance, left community members hopeful.

“After years of our children being abducted and separated from their families, their culture and, ultimately, their self-perception, we are approaching one of the many generational curses that bind us together.” said Mia Buckles, chair of the Cowessess Youth Council said at Tuesday’s event.

Explain the coordination agreement

The Cowessess First Nation will have full decision-making authority over its children and youth.

For the first time in 70 years, this jurisdiction will be recognized and funded by the federal and provincial governments. The federal government has committed $ 38.7 million to help implement the Cowessess Child Protection System.

From coast to coast, the community has the final say in whether a Cowessess child is removed from their home, as opposed to a judge or social services deciding.

“In Saskatchewan, 86 percent of children in care are First Nations, and 150 of them are from Cowessess,” Buckles said. “This is their time to be given the opportunity to come home and heal with their families, on their own land through a holistic approach.”

Cowessess Youth Council President Mia Buckles speaks during Tuesday’s signing. (SRC)

Chief Red Bear Lodge, the community-based child and family service agency, will work to prevent children from being taken into care. The agency provides a safe living environment and access to their culture, Buckles said.

“We are the leaders of a longstanding battle for the rights and comfort of our people. Soon after us, I hope that other First Nations communities will follow us and fight to acquire the capacity to care for and help families in a happy and healthy life. “

Indigenous Services Canada received advice and requests to exercise the same jurisdiction from 38 Indigenous governing bodies representing over 100 Indigenous groups and communities. From there, 18 round tables on coordination agreements were set up. Cowessess is the first to finalize its deal.

The Cowessess First Nation became the first Indigenous group in Canada to enter into an agreement with Ottawa for federal funding to locally control their child welfare services. A ceremony was organized to mark the occasion, including traditional dances. (Matt Howard / CBC)

History in the making

In March 2021, Cowessess passed his own child protection law called the Miyo Pimatisowan Law, which means “to fight for a better life” in Cree.

Unlike colonial laws, the act begins with a prayer, “because it’s the Cowessess approach,” said Chief Cadmus Delorme.

The law was passed under Bill C-92, which empowers Indigenous communities to regain jurisdiction over child protection. The federal bill was drafted in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s first five calls to action, which focus on child protection.

“It is a step on the way, but it is a step that has been identified by indigenous communities and rightly as a priority,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

WATCH | Work to be done on healing and growth for Cowessess First Nation:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Cowessess in southeast Saskatchewan on Tuesday. 2:01

Combating systemic racism within government institutions

Cowessess leaders and the federal and provincial governments have come together for years to discuss the deal.

Cowessess chaired every meeting and led every discussion, said Delorme.

He said First Nations must exercise their rights in order to decolonize the legislation and move forward.

“We are not shareholders or stakeholders, we are holders of rights inherent to us and our unborn children,” said Delorme.

“This country has a lot of laws. Some are working. Some – the machine is so big you can’t change it, and so this is where indigenous peoples, as rights holders, can create their own laws in true interrelation, like the treaty was supposed to do. . to be.”

Delorme said that is how you approach systemic racism going forward.

“Either you work with what you have or you start to create laws where we can all move forward together. “

Trudeau acknowledged that systemic racism exists in government institutions, putting Indigenous peoples at a disadvantage.

“The sequencing will be determined in partnership, but it’s a long way to go,” Trudeau said.

Following the signing of the Coordination Agreement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School on Cowessess First Nation, where 751 anonymous graves have been discovered. On one of the graves he knelt for almost a minute, leaving a teddy bear with a checkered bow tie in front of the flag. (Richard Agecoutay / CBC)

He added that the coordination agreement is only a step towards reconciliation.

“The ability to make that announcement today is proof that we didn’t wake up a few weeks ago and say, ‘Oh, we really should do something for Cowessess because of the tragedy we’ve seen.’ Trudeau said, referring to the recent discovery of 751 anonymous graves.

“We have been working with Cadmus for years now, with Indigenous leaders for years, on the hard work of reconciliation so that we can be here today. It’s an important thing, but there are a lot more important things to work on.

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