Dozens of people gathered at Macdonald Youth Services in Winnipeg Tuesday to raise the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) flag, publicly signalling a child-welfare partnership between the two organizations.
Southwestern Manitoba’s Birdtail Sioux, Canupawakpa, Gambler, Keeseekoowenin, Rolling River and Waywayseecappo, as well as Swan Lake, are among the 34 First Nations represented by the SCO.
Meanwhile, Macdonald Youth Services, a non-profit organization providing numerous services for children, youth and families, has operated in the province for 90 years. Along with its head office in Winnipeg, it currently serves the northern region with offices in Thompson and The Pas/Opaskwayak Cree Nation. Services include prevention through the navigation of mental health and addiction systems and mobile crisis services.
They also provide foster home placements within the child welfare system for Child and Family Services.
The memorandum of understanding between the partners, signed in September but announced now during National Indigenous History Month, comes thanks to Bill C-92, an act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families. The federal legislation means Indigenous communities are free to develop their own child welfare policies and laws based on their particular histories, cultures and circumstances.
The purpose of the partnership is to build, in full collaboration, a governance and community care model that reflects the ongoing needs and aspirations of the First Nations of southern Manitoba, according to the news release.
"There is an alarming overrepresentation of southern First Nations’ children in care, many of whom are in placements that are detached and foreign to our communities and culture," stated Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.
"It is a growing crisis, and there is a need for dramatic and urgent system change. My intention is that this partnership will be a big first step signalling significant and positive change that transitions governance and services for our children, families and communities."
"Child welfare will be community-led. What we’re saying, in partnership with SCO and their communities, is we can be a resource for them, we can work with them," said Macdonald Youth Services chief executive officer Kerri Irvin-Ross.
"The training and the partnership goes both ways. There are many things that MYS (Macdonald Youth Services) can learn from the First Nations communities, and we need to make sure we’re doing that."
The memorandum outlines key work the two organizations will carry out together, such as create a governance framework guided by the principles of reconciliation and design and build a community care model consistent with the evolution of the child welfare system as contemplated by southern First Nations.
In addition, the SCO will guide the youth services organization in its responsibility to implement a culturally appropriate service system, and in return Macdonald Youth Services ensures concrete actions are taken to transform their community care and governance model.
Outcomes include the appointment of an SCO representative to the Macdonald Youth Services’ board of directors, the establishment of an advisory group to help co-manage the partnership, development of a joint work plan that meets mutual objectives to evolve services and infrastructure for the southern First Nations community, and joint reporting mechanisms to measure the specific outcomes of the partnership.
The next step – now that the partnership is sealed with a pipe ceremony and a flag-raising – is community consultations.
"We’ll be meeting with community members, leaders, elders and chief and council and have a conversation about what services do they need in their community," said Irvin-Ross.
"Is there a role for Macdonald Youth Services to work with their community, to provide services, to use some of our knowledge that we have? We are not wanting to take over their responsibilities at all. We’re there to say ‘we’re here to help you.’ And we will be invited into communities to provide that help.
"It’s about supporting families and keeping kids at home."
Jim Krovats, chairperson of the Macdonald Youth Services board, noted Tuesday that 90 per cent of the approximately 11,000 children in care in Manitoba are Indigenous.
"Our team is dedicated to providing effective social services that are consistent with treaty and Indigenous rights. This partnership is the first of its kind in North America, but we see it as the best path forward for better outcomes for children and families in the future," he said.
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.