Dispute Settled Over Southern Manitoba First Nations Child Welfare Control

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross

The Canadian PressJan 12, 2016

WINNIPEG _ An announcement was expected as early as Tuesday on a new seven-person board of First Nations people who will regain control of a southern Manitoba child-welfare organization.

The Manitoba government was also expected to cancel its order appointing an administrator to run the Southern Authority, which oversees 10 frontline agencies and about 4,500 children in care.

The authority has been under provincial control for more than three years, sparked by a dispute between Manitoba’s top chiefs and the organization over whether chiefs could sit on its board.

The matter was before a court in the fall of 2012 when the board fell below levels allowed by legislation, forcing the province to step in and take over.

No chiefs will sit on the new board but have vetted its members, who include an education expert, a former senior child-welfare official and two former band councillors.

The new board was to meet Tuesday with the Southern Authority’s new acting CEO, Tara Petti.

The provincial takeover essentially stripped First Nations of any direct authority over child welfare, a key element of devolution, which was meant to hand over responsibility of child-welfare programs to indigenouspeople.

Many First Nations leaders, including current Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, have argued that democratically elected band chiefs ought to have some say in the running of a key public service on their reserve.

Others, including senior child welfare officials, worried chiefs might be prone to interfere in specific cases for political gain.

“To me that was a really sad day, that we got to that point,” said Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross of the province’s takeover.

Southern Grand Chief Terry Nelson said he hopes the new board pushes to keep far more children on reserve rather than sending them to Winnipeg or other cities for foster care. He expressed skepticism of a child-welfare system that was imposed on First Nations people, even under the guise of devolution.

“This is an interim step,” said Nelson of the Southern Authority’s new board. “But legitimizing someone else’s system isn’t the way to go.”

The province took over the Northern Authority more than a year ago, saying it wasn’t keeping proper track of children in care and wasn’t moving quickly enough on key recommendations from the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry.

Irvin-Ross said she hopes the northern organization comes out of administration this spring. She said the province is finalizing a memo with northern chiefs that will outline the steps the authority must follow in order to be transferred back to a First Nations board.
(Winnipeg Free Press)