Amid uncertainty, Manitoba First Nations, Métis communities consider control of child welfare services


Multiple Manitoba Indigenous communities are mulling a move to take authority over their child welfare systems when a federal law takes effect next month, even as leaders voice concerns about uncertainty surrounding the process. 

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, said his organization has already expressed interest to Ottawa and Manitoba in seeking autonomy under Bill C-92 when it takes effect on Jan. 1.

"We're saying we immediately want to be at the table. We want to start this transition right now," Chartrand said. "We're not going to wait six months, nine months down the road to get it done."

A further six southern Manitoba First Nations are currently in talks with the Southern Chiefs' Organization to explore the possibility of seeking autonomy under the law, according to SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.

Daniels said Monday he couldn't name the communities until he's confirmed chiefs are ready to make plans public.

The federal bill is intended to address overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care by handing over control of child welfare services to Indigenous governments.

Less than 10 per cent of all Canadian children are Indigenous, but they account for more than half of all kids in foster care. In Manitoba, nearly 90 per cent of the 11,000 kids in care are Indigenous.

The bill says groups seeking to take over their child welfare systems must notify Ottawa and the province to start talks on a "co-ordination agreement," and sets a one-year timeline for such agreements to be reached.

But uncertainty over how that transition will work and where funding will come from, as well as concerns about continued involvement of government, have left some leaders with doubts. 

"It will cause a lot of turmoil. I think that you will have a lot of legal posturing, from the province, from the federal government," said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

"At the end of the day, the consequences will be paid by our children, because they will be put into this quagmire of uncertainty."