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Natives at Little Current

April 20, 2010 permalink

Natives protested outside children's aid in Little Current Ontario on April 6. They want control of the welfare of their own children both on and off reserve.



First Nations protestors visit CAS office, demand control over children's welfare

LITTLE CURRENT-For several hours Marjorie Beaudry joined fellow protestors pacing the Highway 6 shoulder outside the Little Current Children's Aid Society (CAS) office, waving to passers-by and urging them to honk their support. In her hands was a neon yellow sign reading, "Mona Red, RIP."

The Chapleau woman, who has ties to Wikwemikong, attended the April 6 protest in memory of Mona Redbreast, a teenaged girl with whom she was close enough to consider a niece, and who, at the age of 13, died while in the care of CAS.

"Her name was Mona Redbreast," Ms. Beaudry explained. "CAS took her and promised to care for her and look after her. She ran away during her time there and died in their care."

Ms. Beaudry holds the child-welfare agency wholly responsible for the death of her niece, and claims there are abuses committed against First Nations children while in the care of the agency that are hidden from parents and the Aboriginal community.

The solution, she and others say, is to allow the First Nations across Ontario to break off from the CAS and create their own child-welfare services that would address the needs of Aboriginal children in a culturally appropriate way.

Organized by Wikwemikong resident Rose Beaudry, last week's protest drew support from representatives of the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI) and the United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin.

"I want Anishinabek people to be heard, to come forward and not be ashamed, and hold their heads up high," Ms. Beaudry said.

John Fox of Wikwemikong said the movement is gaining momentum and will culminate in a rally being held at the Toronto Council Fire on April 26-29. It coincides with a hearing of a lawsuit being filed by roughly 16,000 people who allege they suffered abuse while in the care of CAS as children during the 1960s.

"That policy is continuing today," Mr. Fox said. "We see it as a general policy against First Nations people."

Ultimately, the First Nations would like to see an inclusive system that puts control of child welfare services in the hands of Aboriginal leaders, and that reflects the needs of both on- and off-reserve band members.

"We have the resources to take over the services," Mr. Fox said. "We have everything in our communities. We can take over, we have the resources. We don't need these people here."

Glen Hare, deputy grand chief of the Anishinabek Nation, which represents 42 First Nations in Ontario, agrees that the time has arrived for a shift in the way in which First Nations child-welfare cases are handled. But he remains optimistic that both Native and non-Native leaders are on the same page when it comes to reform.

"I do believe the majority of politicians agree with where we're going, but the question is when," he said. "Let's see if they can help us do what needs to be done. We're ready to take it on."

Ultimately, the transformation needs to begin at the heart of the Anishinabek community. First Nations need their own governance model, with their own constitution and laws, which would result in their own child-welfare system, the grand deputy chief said.

He believes proof of the First Nations' competency lies in other successful programs being run on reserves across the North: if they can run health and education programs, why not child welfare? he argued.

Deputy Chief Hare is bothered by the attitude of some to dismiss the abuses that are alleged to have committed in the 1960s, comparing their effects to those created by the residential school system. Just as those who went through residential school will never forget the experience, children who grow up in the care of CAS will always remember their time in care.

"People say get over it...but they don't know the stories," he said. "It's easier said than done."

Under the purview of the First Nations, the deputy grand chief would like to see more support offered to kids who are put into care, especially during the transitional phase when they move into adulthood. He believes that more backing for wards would alleviate many of the problems that currently continue with them beyond their years in the system.

Ontario's First Nations are not the only critics of the child-protection agency. A series of protests have been held in communities across the North, with the next installment scheduled for April 22 in Sudbury, urging parliament to reintroduce Bill 93, a bill that would give the Ontario Ombudsman authority to investigate complaints against the CAS.

Introduced by NDP leader Andrea Howarth in 2008, the private member's bill died following the proroguing of parliament in February.

Sudbury-Manitoulin CAS executive director Colette Prevost was unavailable for comment by press time; however, she has gone on record as saying the CAS is opposed to the bill, suggesting that there are several checks already in place to ensure accountability within the organization.

"Children's Aids across Ontario do not support another level of oversight because we understand there to be significant accountability in a number of different areas," she told The Sudbury Star last month.

The CAS is overseen by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, and people can address complaints to an executive director of any CAS office across the province. An internal panel review rounds out the supervisory structure.

"We understand the Ombudsman to have oversight on Child and Family Service Review Board, which is a third-party review," Ms. Prevost added. "The auditor general has oversight on any organization as far as the financial (aspects)."

Last week's protest in Little Current was peaceful, with a few dozen people marching with placards along the highway, but if change doesn't materialize quickly, the First Nations community has vowed to step up the campaign by setting up roadblocks along the major arteries throughout the North.

Mr. Fox said the First Nations protestors will not wait long for a government response before progressing with their campaign. While they would rather not resort to roadblocks, it's the only way they believe they can effect change in a system that has long disappointed their citizens.

"I want to highlight that we're not going to let them take our kids anymore, starting from this day forth," Mr. Fox said. "We're keeping the peace for now, but if something doesn't change we'll go to the highways between the Sault, Sudbury, and Toronto."

Several Island residents and Native leaders have already committed to attending the rally in Toronto at the end of the month, including Ms. Beaudry, who promised to keep her niece's memory alive until she believes justice has been served.

"I don't want to let her memory go," she said. "I'm going to keep pushing it."

Source: Manitoulin Expositor