Indigenous chiefs voice concerns with systemic child welfare issues

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First Nations leaders from Alberta and Saskatchewan gathered on Monday to express their collective dissent for a child welfare system that they say fails Indigenous children.

The meeting on Siksika Nation was prompted by a recent removal of two Indigenous children from their respective bands who were then placed together in protective custody in a non-Indigenous home. An advocate for the family says relatives were willing to accept responsibility for the care of the children but their plea was not heard by family court.

According to the chiefs of the Siksika Nation and the Mosquito-Grizzly Bear’s Head – Lean Man Nation, many of the impacted families are not aware of their rights before losing their children and the displaced children are robbed of their culture, heritage and identity.

“The government simply comes in and takes our children away,” said Chief Joseph Weasel Child of Siksika Nation. “There is a Blackfoot child who should be here with family on Family Day.”

“It’s a sad day in Canada when we allow this to happen.”

The chiefs say the bands were not informed of the scheduled court proceedings regarding custody until the week before custody was to be awarded.

The leaders are calling on the government to take steps to ensure Indigenous children remain with their cultures.

Bren Little Light, a survivor of the Sixties Scoop, knows all too well the trauma of becoming disconnected from her heritage. “I was still in diapers when I was taken from the reserve.” The Sixties Scopp says the government removed First Nations children from their homes and placing them with non-Indigenous families.

“I don’t know my language and that really hurts me,” said Little Light. “I don’t speak Blackfoot and I have just recently learned to powwow dance.’

The custody hearing for the the Blackfoo child and the Cree child is scheduled for Tuesday, February 20.

The Government of Alberta has issued an online plea for additional Indigenous caregivers in an attempt to give children who are unable to stay with their natural families an opportunity to stay in their community.

With files from CTV’s Brad MacLeod

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