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Indians Steal Baby from White Man
May 12, 2007 permalink
Forty years ago in Canada white people were stealing babies from Indians. Now it is the other way around. The man known only as Jeff is the target of a case known in the trade by the one word "clutter" — it means there is no real abuse. Can Canada ever get a law leaving children with mom and dad regardless of race?
A white man struggles to reclaim his children
Battle to wrest son and daughter from grandmother on reserve highlights clash of cultures between native and non-native Canadians
May 11, 2007
He always thought of himself as a doting father, a man who read bedtime stories to his two children every night before tucking them under the covers, who would delight in wrapping his arms around them in a bear hug. If not the picture-perfect father, he figured he was close enough.
But the 45-year-old who now lives alone in a spare townhouse more than 1,000 kilometres from his children was anything but perfect in the eyes of the child-protection workers who scooped his pajama-clad son and daughter from his arms in the wee hours of a summer morning almost two years ago.
In the time since, he has fought for the return of children he insists were grabbed without grounds. He has been deadlocked in an unseemly battle for custody with the Onigaming First Nation in Northwestern Ontario, the native community where he and his wife had raised the children before her untimely death and the unravelling of their family.
It is a tangled case coloured by race, cultural biases and conflicting opinions about children's best interests. Jeff is a white man from Southern Ontario who married his Ojibway wife, the band's welfare administrator, in the mid-1990s before settling down in a house on the reserve where they lived for nine years until her sudden death from pancreatic failure in 2004.
That was when Jeff's troubles began. While his wife was sickly for years -- she had launched a wrongful dismissal suit against the band after she was fired for missing too much work -- her mother accused Jeff of murder. The police launched an investigation into the death that would ultimately clear him.
In the meantime, a nasty fight was ensuing over where the body would be buried, with the grieving husband insisting that his wife's wishes were to be buried in Mississauga in his family's cemetery plot and the band furiously demanding that she be buried on the reserve. He eventually relented.
"It was unbelievable," he said. "I couldn't have people physically fighting for the casket."
As time passed, tensions mounted. A few months after the funeral, the band's child-protection agency opened a file on the family. According to court documents, his house was filthy and that a protection worker visiting one time found a sink full of dirty dishes with flies and insects buzzing around. In a slew of unsavoury allegations, Jeff is portrayed as unstable and unkempt, inappropriately feeding the children a starchy diet rich in doughnuts and pancakes and chocolate milk, providing no boundaries for their behaviour, seldom bathing them, and carelessly dressing them in dirty clothes.
The agency suggests he was suffering from depression and possibly an obsessive compulsive personality disorder that impaired his ability to care for them.
He started making plans to move to Southern Ontario to be near his parents and his sister's family, but had not left before protection workers stepped in and apprehended the children.
"As soon as my wife died, I didn't exist. Suddenly, I was the white man, the enemy. It was devastating. I had lived on reserve for about nine years. I had friends there. I knew a lot of people."
But almost two years later, the children remain with their grandmother under the aboriginal child-welfare policy that children be placed with relatives on the reserve, rather than in foster care with non-native strangers. In native culture, the it-takes-a-village philosophy holds sway, and bonds with community and family are equally sacrosanct.
And so, when a threat looms to remove children from their reserve, the band does not take it lightly. The trouble is, this time the threat has come from the children's own father.
To Jeff, his rights as a father have been trampled in an abuse of power.
But to George Simard, the issue is not so simple. The long-time executive director of Weech-it-te-win Family Services, the native child-welfare agency that supervises the band's child-protection workers, the best interests of native children -- even half-native -- are inextricably bound to aboriginal culture and can never be trumped by the rights of a parent. He would like to see the father and grandmother share custody and legal status under a co-parenting arrangement, with the children spending summers on the reserve.
"There's some truth in what Jeff says and some smoke-screening going on in relation to what he says," said Mr. Simard, who, while not free to discuss case details, insists Jeff lost his children for good reason.
"I'm not necessarily offside with his aspirations. I've talked to Jeff any number of times, and yes, the community and himself are polarized. And my advice to him is: Why do the kids become a pawn in the struggle? Why can't you mutually raise them for their own mental health as opposed to one side winning over the other?"
Jeff is an affable man, plain-spoken and earnest. At Onigaming, he worked as a consultant and for a time as a social-services administrator, but has been unemployed for the past few years. He would like his full name to be made public, but Ontario's child-welfare law prevents it.
"This is what I know," said a traditional native healer who provided counselling to Jeff after his wife died, over the objections of a few band members. "The father does not drink, smoke, or gamble. He wasn't functioning well because of his loss. I could understand that. He took it very hard when he lost his wife.
"Some people didn't see it that way, didn't see that a man who had just lost a wife was really hurting. No support from the community to help him with his grief, that's what I saw. I was the only one that supported him."
When Weech-it-te-win asked a court to declare the children wards of the state, the agency took the uncommon step of citing every grounds possible for removing children: that they had been physically abused, neglected, were likely to be sexually molested or exploited, needed medical and psychological treatment that the father refused to provide, and had suffered emotional abuse.
Jeff's lawyer asked for the case to be dismissed altogether. And while the judge did throw out most of the accusations as baseless, he ruled that the father's depression and reported gaps in parenting skills warranted the children remaining with their grandmother, who collects a foster-care allowance for her troubles.
"This case is unlike any case I've ever had," said Michael Cupello, a Thunder Bay family lawyer who has represented parents in child-welfare cases for 15 years.
"It should have been a child custody proceeding. It should never have been a child protection proceeding."
He advised his client that, with lengthy court delays, his children would be returned sooner if he cut a deal with the band. He signed a settlement, and over the months has fulfilled his end of the bargain -- finding a place to live, taking a parenting course, furnishing proof of his mental-health treatment, and opening his door to a Children's Aid Society social worker to assess his parenting and his home.
Completed this week, that home study concludes the children should live with Jeff, the social worker observing that "... both children appeared to trust Jeff and respond to him in an age-appropriate manner. The family interacts in a positive way. ... Jeff appeared supportive of his children, listening to them and encouraging them."
But Jeff doubts the band will budge. He maintains it has violated the settlement by refusing to return the children, limiting his visits, and under a band council resolution unceremoniously banning him from the reserve.
His lawyer plans to file a motion that the child-protection agency be held in contempt of court and demanding the immediate return of children.
As for the children, they make no secret of their desire to live with their father.
On a rare visit over the Easter weekend, the three of them have just returned from the public library. It is only the children's second visit to their father's home, but already they have made friends with neighbouring children their age. There has been a visit with grandparents and cousins they barely knew, an Easter-egg hunt and a shopping trip for new shoes.
"Hey, when are we moving to Guelph?" the girl demanded of her father, bouncing on the couch in his living room shortly before the Onigaming protection worker arrived to whisk the children back to the reserve.
Over and over, the girl repeated that she wants to live with her father. "It's really fun here," she said. "It's fun, and there's a cool bookstore, and my favourite stores are here. And I really like the school. It's nice and clean. And there are no broken windows."
She said she asks her grandmother about when she can move. "She always says he needs to work things out -- cooking and stuff -- but he already did," she said. "He can cook really good. He made a turkey before for dinner. Lots of stuff.
"When we have the next visit, we don't want it to be a visit. We want it to be we move here."
There are about 140 native child-welfare agencies across Canada, including five in Ontario, with the same authority of mainstream children's aid societies to apprehend youngsters considered in need of protection.
The first aboriginal child-welfare agency was the Siksika Family Service agency in Alberta, which started in the late 1960s during the so-called Sixties Scoop, a period of nearly two decades when non-native social workers with new powers to work on reserves and little understanding of native culture plucked thousands of children from poor families. Many would never return after being placed for adoption with non-native families as far away as Europe. The first native-run agencies were a response to cries of cultural genocide.
The number of aboriginal children in foster care has soared by about 65 per cent in the past decade, with one of every 10 aboriginal children in the care of a native or mainstream child-welfare agency, compared with just one of every 150 non-native Canadian children.
Ontario has the highest native population, but there are only five full-fledged aboriginal children's aid societies, and Ontario has recorded the sharpest jump in the number of native children under care in the past decade.
The Spallumcheen First Nation in British Columbia is the only band in Canada with its own child-welfare law and full authority over its child-protection system.
Source: Globe and Mail
Addendum: Dad gets his kids back.
Dad wins custody fight with reserve
ROB O'FLANAGAN, GUELPH (Jul 11, 2007)
A Guelph father who was separated from his two children for more than two years while a tense child-protection case involving a northern Ontario First Nation's community unfolded will get his children back.
The Caucasian man's son and daughter, who are part Ojibway, were taken from him in 2005 by Weech-it- te-win Family Services, a child-welfare agency serving native communities in northwestern Ontario, after allegations were levelled against him by the Onigaming First Nation near Fort Frances.
The children were placed in the care of their grandmother, and the man, who can be referred to only as Jeff, was evicted from his home on the reserve.
He lived on the reserve for nearly nine years with his Ojibway wife. Soon after she died in 2004, the man said in a recent interview, the reserve took action to keep the children there, levelling allegations of parental incompetency against him.
A hearing was held into the case last Thursday and the outcome was in his favour.
"The process takes its course and ultimately the kids will go back to Guelph with their father," George Simard, the executive director of Weech-it-te-win Family Services, said in a telephone interview.
"As I understand it, there is an interim order of supervision and I believe toward the end of the month is when he will be taking his kids to Guelph."
Jeff's struggle to keep his children may not be over. According to Simard, he will be supervised by children's aid officials for a 12-month period, at which time another hearing will be held to determine if it is in the best interests of the children to stay with their father.
"We intend to proceed with the 12-month supervision," Simard said. "If it is granted, fine, if not, he is on his own."
He said they will have children's aid officials in Guelph "supervise on our behalf during that 12-month period, to lend assistance to Jeff, to ensure that he has the proper resources to care for his kids, to assist him with any supports he might need to give him a fair crack at independence."
Simard expressed his opinion that the children would benefit from having their aboriginal identity fostered, and by having their extended aboriginal family as an integral part of their upbringing.
The case received national media coverage because of its political implications.
For decades in Canada, native children were taken from reserves and placed in foster care off-reserve. It is now widely accepted that the practice was detrimental to the children, and efforts have recently been made to ensure that native children at the centre of child-protection cases remain on reserves.
This is an exceptional case because the father is white.
Jeff, 45, is an automotive parts worker.
He could not reached for comment yesterday.
He has launched two lawsuits, totalling $1.5 million, against the reserve seeking compensation for his claimed hardship. His case has been profiled in the Globe and Mail and on the CTV Newsnet program The Verdict.
Source: The Record, Kitchener Ontario
Addendum: In May 2014 the father identified himself on Facebook as Jeff Geauvreau. In April 2014 he provided fixcas with the outcome of his case. First, he provided the text of another article by Rob O'Flanagan in the Guelph Mercury. It is not online, but Jeff secured a copy by email from the reporter.
City man, reserve in custody standoff; Resolution may come this week
A Guelph man, who is white, is at the centre of a tense child-protection case involving his two children and a First Nation community in northern Ontario. Jeff (we can only use his first name, for legal reasons) has lived in this city since the fall of 2005, coming here after he was evicted from the Onigaming First Nation near Fort Frances.
Before his life took what he calls a nightmarish turn, he lived with his Ojibway wife on the reserve. The couple had two children, a son and daughter, who were raised in the community.
Shortly after his wife's death from pancreatic failure in 2004, Jeff's life, and his family, unravelled. The children are currently under the protection of a child-welfare agency and in the care of their grandmother on the reserve. The father says the children should be with him and that allegations levelled against him by the reserve and Weech-it-te-win Family Services are completely unfounded. A child-protection hearing in Fort Frances Thursday could determine whether the children will be allowed to join him in Guelph.
Jeff is a nondescript 45-year-old with graying hair and heavy eyeglasses, which he constantly pushes up on his nose. He says his rights as a parent are being violated and his children are being used as pawns in a political game being played out by the reserve and native child-welfare authorities. He has launched two lawsuits, totalling $1.5 million, against the reserve to get his children back as well as compensation for his hardship. And the case has been profiled in the Globe and Mail and on CTV Newsnet's The Verdict. "This case is about the First Nation's rights versus my parental rights," Jeff said in and interview. "They seem to think they have precedence over me as the biological parent. This is pretty well all politically driven -- it's a political highjack. Our legal position is that the children are being held hostage."
But the executive director of Weech-it-te-win Family Services, George Simard, says the agency and the reserve have the right and responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of children in the community. Simard said the agency conducted a thorough and proper investigation before seeking a court order to remove the children from their father's care. The court found in favour of the agency, Simard said, and a court order placing the children in care remains in place. Part of the mandate of Weech-it-te-win Family Services is to make every effort to keep native children in native communities, ensuring their cultural identity and native values are preserved. But this case, Simard said in a telephone interview, is clearly one involving the protection of the children -- solely revolving around their safety and security, and not around the broader political issues. Although he was not free to disclose details of the case, he said there are legitimate reasons for concern.
Jeff sees it much differently. "It's like one elder up there told me the other day," said Jeff, "the situation is like two trains going at each other at 100 miles an hour. The situation has been continuously escalating. They are doing everything in their power to keep the children on the reserve. What it all boils down to is, they don't want the kids leaving the reserve." Soon after his wife's death, Jeff's troubles began. His mother-in-law, he said, accused him of killing his wife, an accusation that was investigated by police and found baseless. There was a fight over where Jeff's wife would be buried -- the husband's family plot or on the reserve. Jeff, who admits his relationship with his mother-in-law is not an amicable one, said in order to keep the peace he consented to bury his wife on the reserve. As confusion, grief and conflict swirled around his life, Jeff said he decided it was time to leave the reserve. That, he said, is when Weech-it-te-win Family Services was called in by reserve officials. The agency investigated the man's credibility as a parent. In the process, it levelled a number of allegations against Jeff, including that he kept a filthy house, didn't feed his children properly and dressed them in dirty clothes. There were also questions about his emotional stability. The agency was granted a court order to take custody of the children, according to Simard, and it placed the children in their grandmother's care. Since he was not a band member, the reserve passed a resolution to evict Jeff from his reserve home and he has since been banned from setting foot on the reserve.
Mavis Etienne is a Mohawk woman living in Kanehsatake, Que. The head of clinical staff at an addiction treatment centre, she does not know Jeff. But after hearing about his case through the Aboriginal Ministries Council -- an organization that acts on behalf of aboriginal Christian groups -- she came out in support of him, championing his cause against the reserve. She wrote a letter of support which was entered into the child-protection proceedings. "Obviously these children are being held hostage," she said in a telephone interview. "Their mother died and now they are depriving them of their daddy, citing that they would lose their culture because he is a non-native. I feel that is a very racist attitude. Creator God gave the children to him, not to the community. "I think the stance they are taking now will make those children not even want to be proud of being Ojibway," she added. "They are making it harder for them to choose to celebrate who they are as native." Etienne said it is up to a parent to decide how to nurture a child's identity, and the decision to encourage and preserve the children's native identity is not one for the community to make. "It's up to the parent to nurture them and help them grow, that they become proud of who they are on both sides. The parents' rights supercede the rights of the community," she said.
For decades in this country, native children were taken from reserves and placed in foster care in non-native homes, a policy widely recognized as damaging to the children's well-being. A number of native-run child-welfare agencies -- there are about 140 across the country, five in Ontario -- that have come into their own over the past two decades or so are working to reverse that historical trend. It is against this background that the case of the two Onigaming children and their white father's efforts to gain custody of them, is playing out.
Simard said cultural sensitivity was decidedly lacking in the child-welfare system of the past. Native agencies came into being precisely because the former system proved ineffectual at working within the native context. He stressed that Weech-it-te-win has followed procedure in this case and that a resolution to the dispute is not as far out of reach as it may seem. Jeff, he said, was instructed by the court to demonstrate that he is a fit parent and the outcome of this week's court proceeding could result in the man gaining custody of his children, if he can demonstrate that he is capable of taking good care of them. Simard said that in the interests of the children, there is a need for the process to become less adversarial. "This is a blended family issue, in which one party is native, the other non-native," he said, admitting that such cases are fairly frequent and complex. "In my opinion it doesn't have to be adversarial. Why not raise these children together in an environment of unity?" Simard said Jeff has shown a willingness to work to maintain the native identity of his children.
For his part, Jeff said he will not accept a joint custody resolution to the problem, but will guarantee his children's native identity is fostered.
Source: email from Jeff
When Jeff got an order to return his children, it contained an unprecedented provision for enforcement against the Onigaming First Nation, the Onigaming Family Services and Weech-it-te-win Family Services, the native child-welfare agency, in order to assure the immediate return of the children to the father Jeff Geauvreau. This was done because two previous settlements, turned into Court Orders, to return the children to Jeff were not respected by the First Nation and First Nation Agencies.
Two years after Jeff's children were returned to him he had to flee with them to Peru. He had been attacked and beaten by some native men. The family remains in Chiclayo Peru to this day, though Jeff hopes they can return to Canada soon. Jeff's story in his own words is in the expand block. It includes details of the native attempt to forcibly change his wife's burial site. Ironically, the band's efforts to get exclusive control of the children has resulted in their total separation from their Ojibwa heritage.
Our high profile case has been profiled in the Globe and Mail and on CTV Newsnet's The Verdict and on CFRB Radio Mike Richards show with Guest host Michael Coren along with the American network CNN Larry King show doing a short blurb about the White father against Indian Tribe fighting for custody.
I was lucky to have the public support of one prominent native lady named Mavis. Mavis Etienne is a Kanesatake Mohawk who figured prominently during the Oka crisis, acting as a negotiator for the community in the drawn-out talks to bring down the barricades.
Robert, I had to go on TV , Radio and in the newspapers to force this to become a Public issue. In the TV interview I did on CTV the Verdict with Paula Todd , the Native Children's aid director said the problem with the biological father is that he is a white man and the children are native. When he said that my lawyer called me and said now we have won. They showed their true colors.
One month before we going to court for the last time , I finally received my police record check which showed I had no criminal record. My had asked additionally asked for any Police reports involving me.
We got one report which stated that the Police has received a call from a native child care worker saying that I had apprehended and kidnapped my children and had left the reserve with my children.
The native children's aid worker further stated that my children were wards of the native children native aid and asked for I to be located along with my children and for my children to be returned to the reserve by police agencies across Canada and the USA. The US customs was contacted and told to stop and arrest me for kidnapping and prevent me from leaving Canada with my children.
The report ends that within a few hours the police had ascertain that I was the legal guardian and sole parent and the children were in my legal custody and no crimes had been committed. The native child care worker admits to an officer in the report a few hours after the original call that the children were not wards of the children aid. He had lied to the police.
It is my belief that my plans to remove my children from their reserve and I and move to Mississauga , Ont caused the band to apprehend them and in my belief kidnap them and hold them hostage for 2 years well trying to force me to give co legal custody to my ex mother in law.
If I had agreed I would have my children back within weeks and not 2 years. That is blackmail in my opinion
Robert , If I had accepted joint legal custody 2 years previously I would have had my children back immediately for 6 months of the year. That was then and is now custody blackmail and kidnapping and holding my children hostage for political and cultural purposes.
Margaret Philp was upset that her story was edited and cut down and did not include anything in detail about that after my wife's death that the band and ex mother in law accused me of murder and called the police for a criminal investigation to try to force me to bury my late wife Yvonne on the reserve. It worked and I buried my wife at Onigaming.
Police were also worried that my children could possibly kidnapped to force me to bury my wife on the reserve. This is documented. My children and I were under police guard for about a week.
A day after the investigation was complete I was sitting on my porch watching my children across the road ride their bikes. When my 4 year old son ( 2 weeks shy of his 5th birthday ) was riding his bike he went around the corner of the outdoor ice rink boards. I could still see him but I noticed that the police car that had been sitting to my right suddenly started up and moved forward and stopped when it seemed he could see my son again.
I though am I seeing things or is my imagination leaping to conclusions. I walked off my porch and walked to the Police car and talked to the officer. I told him what I saw and thought. He said yes Jeff we are worried that the first nation of your late wife's family or other native people might try to kidnap your children to force you to bury your wife here on the reserve. Wow , I was thunderstruck and shocked and scared for my children safety and well being.
My wife was buried under a heavy police presence because of threats to steal her casket and bury it on reserve. My wife's casket was also under 24 hour police guard at green funeral home in fort Frances by order of the chief medical examiner so my wife's remains would be protected. She called me and told me to cancel the funeral as she was confiscating Yvonne´s body for protection. I begged her to let us proceed and she relented.
If they would go as far to accuse me of murder to force me to bury my late wife. What would they do to keep my children ? We found out the hard way what they would do.
Robert , I have started to try to start a dialogue for healing and reconciliation with the my ex mother in law and some other band members. I am doing this in the best interest of my children. Also when we come to Canada , I don´t want to have to be looking over my shoulder. I have talked a little my ex mother in law and some band members to try to communicate in a healthy way. It is not easy and opens old wounds and pain.
My ex mother law says she is not interested in bringing up past problems or talking with the kids about things she did or said that caused them harm and apologizing.
How do I forgive somebody that has hurt and caused a lot of pain and damage to my children. This is going to be very hard to do. If they just hurt me then that I forgive but hurt my children. I don´t know how I will do it.
In a recent email to me Mavis Etienne the wonderful and wise Mohawk woman told me some real words of wisdom.
Forgiveness is a decision you make to set yourself free. As long as you don't forgive, you keep yourself chained to the one who has hurt you. Forgiveness doesn't mean you will forget, it just means that you won't allow the pain to continue to steal your contentment today.
We are presently still in Peru and hoping to come back to Canada soon to rebuild our lives there.
Why am I looking at going public again and in the media eye ? It is to make sure all Native people know that I am trying to bring reconciliation and healing to our situation with the Native band and Native community. I don´t want to have looking over my shoulder and I don't want my children be looking over their shoulders when we come back to Canada or to have my children be afraid of the first nation.
I want my children to be proud of who they are. I want them to be proud of being native and non native. I want them to embrace their native heritage and learn more about the Ojibway language and culture.
I want the best for my children. I want us to be able to return to from our extended visit in Peru and return to Canada. To be able to live in peace and harmony and have no problems with the native community in Canada.
Source: email from Jeff