In June 2019, a landmark federal bill recognizing the jurisdiction of Indigenous communities over child and family services became law. Now the MLA for Monfwi is questioning how that bill is being implemented in the Northwest Territories.
Bill C-92 aims to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care and keep them connected to their families, communities and culture. It allows Indigenous communities and groups to develop their own child and family policies and laws.
In the Legislative Assembly on Monday, MLA Jackson Lafferty praised the bill and asked what action the territorial government had taken regarding its obligations under the legislation.
“This is a good law, one recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” he said.
“It’s successful implementation requires the cooperation and the goodwill of this government, also provincial governments that are involved.”
Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green said both she and her predecessor had reached out to all Indigenous governments in the territory to discuss the bill. She added she has brought it up at every bilateral meeting she has attended with Indigenous governments since becoming a minister.
“The department is very supportive of the federal bill and we are working to ensure that it is rolled out successfully in the NWT,” she said.
“We want this to happen. We want Indigenous governments to take the lead in caring for their children and we are here to help, but the first step needs to be the step by the Indigenous government.”
According to Green, around one year ago, one Indigenous government in the NWT indicated they were interested in beginning negotiations. A second government expressed interest a month ago. (The governments in question were not identified by the minister.)
Green said Indigenous governments have the option to create and implement their own laws or collaborate with the territorial government. She added that the federal government is providing funding to Indigenous governments and organizations to help.
Across Canada, Indigenous governments have the option to enter into a tripartite agreement with federal, and provincial or territorial governments to devolve child and family services. Green said neither of the two Indigenous governments who have expressed interest in the NWT are at that stage.
“The major stumbling block I’m hearing is capacity. People understand that creating a law, creating an implementation plan, is a huge undertaking,” she said.
Lafferty said more resources are needed.
“It’s time that we reinvest in these areas,” he said. “We are talking about our children of the Northwest Territories and this is a worthwhile investment.”
Green said Child and Family Services had implemented two new practice standards since Bill C-92 came into effect. Indigenous governments are now notified before a “significant measure” is taken regarding an Indigenous child. The NWT government has also committed to supporting Indigenous children and families through family reunification.
According to the 2019-2020 annual report from the director of Child and Family Services, of the 1,239 children and youth who received prevention or protection services in the NWT, 98 percent were Indigenous.
Green said in October that the division was “on the right track,” noting that more than 90 percent of children receiving support from Child and Family Services lived with family or in their community.