The need for an advocacy office was determined through community consultation, where the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs hosted community engagement events in Winnipeg and Thompson Manitoba. Hundreds of First Nations community members attended the events in May 2014, where First Nations people shared the atrocities and challenges that were imposed on individuals, their families and communities. The information gathered from the community engagement sessions prompted a report entitled “Bringing Our Children Home”(BOCH). The BOCH report offered ten recommendations that would immediately address many of the issues and concerns identified in the community engagement sessions.
The office was gifted the name “Abinoojiyak Bigiiwewag” which translates to “Our Children are Coming Home”.
Information from the BOCH report was utilized to create the Bringing Our Children Home Proposal Submission that was provided to both the federal and provincial governments.
Without any funding commitments from government, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs proceeded to begin implementation of the action items identified in the BOCH Report. They began with the hiring of a First Nations Family Advocate and Assistant Family Advocate.
In Manitoba, the challenges with the Child Welfare system are enormous. Child Welfare and the institutionalization of children is a billion dollar industry in our province. This system feeds children into other institutionalizing industries such as Justice, Health and Employment and Income Assistance. The reality is that First Nations children are beginning life as institutionalized citizens of this country.
The FNFAO is recognizing serious infractions such as compromises of Human Rights for both children and families. There is an immediate need for action to begin changing the system.
• Family • Community • Cultural ceremonial ways • Connection/Purpose in Life • Ancestral Land • Ancestral Waters
• Way of Life • Education • Protection within and outside of their Nation
Developing the way forward requires the meaningful involvement of parents, families and communities. This will include a focus on rebuilding strong family structures rooted in First Nations natural laws, principles, and natural support systems.
To support and advocate for Indigenous families, involved with the Child and Family Services system by challenging existing jurisdictions, policies, laws and organization using Indigenous knowledge, customary laws, traditions and belief systems to create positive change for our children, families and communities.
By advocating action through prevention, education, culture and collaboration, we will strengthen our sovereign rights to empower First Nations individuals Families and communities while ensuring improved health, support, care and safety for our children.
“Bringing Our Children Home”
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs explored the child welfare system in Manitoba from the perspective of the people who must deal with the system directly including children (now adults), parents, grandparents, workers, and support workers. The recommendations from this report provided the guiding direction for the First Nation Family Advocate Office.
Overall, there must be a transition to a First Nations System that is based on the original systems of child rearing, education, and nurturance of individual spirit. We will find appropriate ways to break the existing cycle to restore spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being based on the First Nations’ principles of: love, compassion, respect, and dignity.
Using the guidance of the First Nations Elders and Grandparent, and a direction from the higher power of Spirit this new path will be created with a long-term goal of “Bringing Our Children Home”.
Establish an Office of the First Nations Family Advocate that will challenge the system to address unethical practices and decisions enforced upon families or decisions that contribute to negative impacts on the child’s spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical well-being and safety.
In addition, the First Nations Family Advocates will work with children and families currently involved with CFS to ensure:
The first six years of education are the most important in teaching a child who they are. First Nations have the knowledge and carry the gifts to help children to understand their identity, language, and culture. This must be the first and immediate priority to ensure that the young ones, wherever they may be physically, are being supported spiritually, emotionally, and mentally to understand who they are and where they come from.
The Elders and Grandmothers are integral to providing children with these teachings and ways of knowing to develop a concrete understanding of their culture, community, and individual identity. It will be important to identify all people that need to work together on implementing this as well as the people that need to support this recommendation.
Communities will work to engage the Elders, Grandmothers, and Youth to further define the First Nations Rights of the Child and determine the best methods to reach out to the children right now.
Every organization, school, youth initiative, community program, as well as all services and supports provided to First Nations children, youth, and families should respect and uphold the First Nations Rights of the Child as determined by the Elders, Grandmothers and Youth.
First Nations must take the time to hear from the young people and identify what specific interventions they need to understand the environments in which they live, how to cope with these environments, and how to evolve and grow in a positive and balanced way. Consultation with the young people will identify ways to meet their spiritual, emotional, physical, mental, social, and environmental needs. Community-based resources including the Leadership, Elders and Grandmothers, Education, Social Assistance, Housing, and Child Welfare can explore alternatives for young people in the community that will meet the needs identified and focus on:
It is very difficult and in some instances impossible, to find placements within the community. The communities must take a proactive role in finding ways to keep children within the community.
Authorities and Agencies can develop new service delivery models, examine initiatives like Customary Care, Receiving Homes, and Family Healing Homes to have children remain in the community. The focus will be on:
All First Nations organizations must come together to develop and communicate new messages to move beyond negativity, blame, and conflict and restore peace, harmony and cooperation. Positive messaging will bring together everyone that needs to be involved to restore the children to the centre and design a First Nations System for Child and Family Services.
Support will need to be created for Indigenous Social Work programs. The establishment of a College of Aboriginal Social Workers will ensure the Social Work Profession Act reflects the First Nations perspective, beliefs, values and practices in the Code of Ethics adopted.
There is a strong and immediate need for healing centres in the community, a place where all people have ready access to their traditional practices, cultural ceremonies, land-based teachings/skills development, and related healing interventions (Cree, Dene, Dakota, Oji-Cree, and Ojibway).
Efforts will be made to facilitate all existing resources to come together with the guidance and support of Elders to plan, develop and implement collaborative supports that will help parents and children to meet their spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental needs, for example:
Work will be done with the CFS Agencies to ensure all policies and practices reflect the importance of family connections. This will require collaborating among community-based projects plus redirection of Enhancement funds to orient and support such collaboration.
In time, the establishment of healing centre hubs, can ensure every community has ready access to cultural healing interventions.
Poverty can no longer be a justification for destroying families. First Nations must promote their own standards for the well-being and safety of families. In addition, families need to be housed in supportive environments and provided with comprehensive supportive services.
First Nations leadership will work to adapt Housing Policies to meet family reunification needs and to keep children in the community. Expansion of the Eagle Urban Transition Centre is planned and will include supports for youth and families involved with Child Welfare. The goal is to also establish an Eagle Urban Transition Centre in Northern Manitoba inclusive of all services.
The Child welfare system is endorsed by the justice system. The formal legal system is part of the structure but disconnected from the purpose – to minimize any negative impact of a child being removed from their home. Communities are left out of the process and children do not have a voice at hearings. There needs to be a decision making process in which the community is empowered to develop alternative case plans and care for the child.
Efforts will be taken to examine legislation to recognize “Customary Care” by First Nations and to reclaim responsibility for the children. An evaluation of the Legal Aid system in relation to the services provided for First Nations clients dealing with child welfare is recommended.