The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation has enacted its own child and family services legislation, the first Indigenous organization to do so in the Northwest Territories since the passage of a landmark federal bill.
The corporation says the law – titled Inuvialuit Qitunrariit Inuuniarnikkun Maligaskat, or Inuvialuit Family Way of Living Law – will ensure Inuvialuit children in contact with the child and family service system across Canada remain connected to their culture.
The law will also support Inuvialuit families to reduce the need for child welfare intervention, the corporation said.
“There is nothing more important to a people than the continuity of culture and the well-being and care of its own children,” Duane Ningaqsiq Smith, chair of the corporation, said in a statement.
“We listened to communities and how they want to care for the well-being of their children and families and this law returns those powers and responsibilities to where they belong: with Inuvialuit.”
The law, passed on Wednesday, was created in response to Bill C-92, a federal bill that came into force in January 2020. That bill recognized the jurisdiction of Indigenous communities over child and family services and allowed them to develop their own policies and laws. It aims to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care across Canada and keep them connected to their families, communities, and culture.
The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation said while other Indigenous governments have exercised this legislative authority, it is the first Inuit organization to do so. It plans to gradually take over all services and functions related to Inuvialuit child welfare through the creation of facilities, community staffing, and a new organization.
The corporation said now that it has passed the new law, it has requested coordination agreements, along with funding and support, from the federal, Yukon, NWT, and Alberta governments. It said those discussions have a one-year deadline, at which time the Inuvialuit law will come into full force and override territorial and federal laws – save for human rights laws – if an agreement is not reached.
The NWT government has said it is supportive of Indigenous governments developing their own laws on child welfare and reducing the number of Indigenous children in care.
In response to Bill C-92, the territorial child and family services division implemented a new policy to notify Indigenous governments before a “significant measure” is taken regarding an Indigenous child.
According to the newly released 2020-2021 annual report from the director of Child and Family Services, of the 1,044 children who received prevention or protection services in the NWT, 98 percent were Indigenous.