Loon River, Lubicon, and Peerless’ close to taking control of child welfare

Pearl Lorentzen
For South Peace News

For the last 25 years, KTC Child and Family Services (KTCCFS) has had a contract with the provincial government to protect children under the provincial laws for Loon River First Nation, Lubicon Lake Band, and Peerless Trout First Nation. This includes apprehending the children into foster care.
However, by September 2023 it hopes to protect children under a law created by these three First Nations called Awas’ak Wiyansiwêwin (Children’s Law).
“Our piece is done,” says Mona Auger, executive director of KTCCFS. “It’s waiting on Alberta and Canada.”
“We’re in the final stages,” says Peerless Trout First Nation Chief Gladys Okemow. “All of the nuts and bolts are in place.”
KTC stands for Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal Council. KTC was formed in 1995. It has five member nations: Loon River First Nation, Lubicon Lake Band, Peerless Trout First Nation, Whitefish Lake First Nation, and Woodland Cree First Nation.
KTCCFS serves three of these: Lubicon, Loon River, and Peerless Trout.
These three First Nations will likely be the first in Alberta to take over complete control of child welfare under Bill C-92 in Alberta, says Auger.
In 2019, the KTCCFS board decided to write its own laws concerning child welfare, says Auger. This was because it knew that the federal government was going to pass an act to allow First Nations to take over this responsibility.
Bill C-92 ‘An act representing First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families’ received royal assent on June 21, 2019.
A Canada government news release says, “Through the Act, national principles such as the best interests of the child, cultural continuity, and substantive equality have been established to help guide the provision of Indigenous child and family services. The Act also enables Indigenous groups and communities to transition toward exercising partial or full jurisdiction over child and family services at a pace that they choose.”
The transition process toward complete control requires a tripartite agreement between the First Nation(s), government of Canada, and government of Alberta.
This is what Loon River, Lubicon, and Peerless are working towards.
“As we know, the path created by C92 is not perfect, but creates a real opportunity to take back control,” says chief Okemow.
On November 19, 2021, Loon River, Peerless Trout, and Lubicon members passed the Awas’ak Wiyansiwêwin (Children’s Law).
A KTCCFS news release says, “This is a historic moment for our three nations in transforming Child & Family Services delivery to our children.”
Awas’ak Wiyansiwêwin is very close to chief Okemow’s heart. She was a foster parent for 15 years and has seen the trauma that being taken out of their home causes children.
“We want to decide for our children,” she says. “Taking back jurisdiction over our children and families.”
The chief and council of all three First Nations have been heavily involved in the process.
For the first few months, they met every week, says Auger.
“We’re all on the same page,” she says. “They’re all involved in this.”
Community engagement was a big part of drafting Awas’ak Wiyansiwêwin.
“In the process, we met with the families, children, youth, had engagement meetings,” says chief Okemow. “We involved all of the members from our nation.”
“We’re going to be focusing on prevention,” says chief Okemow. “Prevention rather than intervention. The main focus will be keeping families together. We also want our children to stay connected with their culture and community.”
The Alberta law focuses on intervention, says chief Okemow. “But with this one. If we know that the families are struggling, then prevention would provide that support.”
Two examples she gives are workshops on budgeting and parenting and addictions programs.
At the moment, the communities view child services in a negative light, says Auger. This is because it is associated only with removing children from their families. Under the new law, the hope is that this will change. Instead, people will see it as a place to go for help.
To do this, the goal is to build Nesokamakemik (Helping Places) on each of the three First Nations to provide the 12 essential services outlined in Awas’ak Wiyansiwêwin.
“There’s a lack of infrastructure on the First Nations,” says Auger. There isn’t a building which would work, so part of the proposed tripartite agreement is funding for construction.
“Children will no longer have to fight in the court system,” says chief Okemow.
Instead of the traditional court system, the proposed law has a tribunal.
Under the provincial system, Child and Family services bring the evidence before a judge, says Auger. The families don’t understand the system and often don’t have a lawyer. Under Awas’ak Wiyansiwêwin, the responsibility is reversed. The tribunal is responsible for gathering evidence. It will be a separate body from the chief and council and the Office of the Onikanew. Onikanew means leader in Cree.
Like the provincial ministry of Children’s Services. The Onikanew will hire service providers to do the work.
Once enacted the law will apply to on and off-reserve Loon, Peerless, and Lubicon members, says Auger. KTCCFS will take care of on-reserve and run urban offices in places with a high number of members such as Slave Lake, Peace River, and Edmonton. For children further afield, provincial agencies will likely be contracted to do the work.

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