Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the guest of honor at a celebration hosted by the Cowessess First Nation on July 6, as three levels of officials came together to sign documents to restore governance in children’s services in the community.
Cowessess First Nation is the first Indigenous jurisdiction in Canada to claim its inherent rights to make decisions about child and family services for its citizens in need.
âToday is a historic day,â said Cowessess chef Cadmus Delorme. “This is where indigenous peoples, as rights holders, can create their own laws in a true co-relationship. [with the Crown], as the treaty was meant to be.
Trudeau, Delorme and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe were present to finalize the coordination agreement, titled Miyo Pimatisowin Act.
âThis is a step on the path, a step that has been identified by Indigenous communities, rightly, as a priority – making sure we recognize the harm done to children in residential schools, the harm done by residential schools. child and family services, removal of aboriginal children who are overrepresented in child care, âTrudeau said.
The law was first ratified by the citizens of Cowessess in March 2020 and finalized in negotiations with the provincial and federal governments over the past year.
It falls under a larger federal law known as Bill C-92, or An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and MÃ©tis Children, Youth and Families, passed in 2019 with the goal of improve child and family services and reduce the number of Indigenous children in government care.
“[Bill C-92] will ensure that as we move forward, children get the support and protection they need, guided by their own communities, in their own languages, in their own cultures, âTrudeau said.
About 86% of children in the care of provincial social services are Indigenous, according to a representative from the Cowessess Youth Council, and 150 of those children are from Cowessess First Nation.
Regaining competence, said Delorme, will bring these children back to their community and culture to empower future generations.
âThe coordinating agreement focuses on our kids, on those kids in care who think they’re from Cowessess, but don’t know what that means,â Delorme said.
As part of the deal, the federal government will invest $ 38.7 million over the next two years to support Cowessess in the implementation of its child and family services system.
The provincial government is also committed to continuing to protect the children of the Cowessess First Nation who are off reserve during this transition.
Delorme said this action is the first step in many to dismantle the Indian Act in Canada, with the goal of achieving a long-term goal of self-government for First Nations peoples.
As for Cowessess, work will continue with the new Chief Red Bear Children’s Lodge, which will facilitate child and family services for the citizens of Cowessess, including the return of children currently in the social service system.
The Lodge plans to provide on-reserve prevention and healing services to the citizens of Cowessess by the fall, with a five-year plan to have fully operational offices on the reserve and in Regina by 2026.
Delorme said that while this work is in progress, Cowessess Council will now focus on other government institutions in need of change, including land ownership and band membership rules.
âThe Indian Act is there and it is real, and it cannot be done away with tomorrow. It has to be at the pace of a nation, to get out of the Indian Act and become true self-government, âsaid Delorme.
Trudeau echoed the statement, adding that the federal government will follow the lead of Indigenous leaders to move forward.
âWe have to get out of the Indian Act, and it’s not something that can take a week,â Trudeau said. âThere is a wide range of priorities and the pace at which we move forward will be dictated by the desire and leadership of the communities with which we work. “
PM visits newly discovered grave of residential school survivors
After the signing ceremony, Chief Delorme and the Prime Minister also visited the cemetery site where a preliminary radar search in June uncovered around 750 anonymous graves near the former Marieval Indian Residential School.
On a tour closed to the public, Trudeau met several First Nation residential school survivors and toured the community cemetery.
Delorme said the weeks following the announcement of the ground penetrating radar sweep were difficult for Cowessess.
âWhen we told the world what we had discovered, it created a bit of animosity in our own community over how these graves got to where they are,â said Delorme.
He said that finalizing Cowessess’ reclaiming jurisdiction over his children in the system – which some contemporary advocates have described as a modernized extension of the residential school system – is a move that will hopefully offer some healing. to the community.
“The coordination agreement is a hope,” said Delorme. âEach of our children in care, our homes that need investments in prevention right now, [we] can respond so quickly. It won’t be magic, but we will respond in a proactive and empowering manner. “