Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cultivating Cultural Sensitivities

"The child protection system for aboriginal children and youth is broken. We see the same type of things repeating: aboriginal children taken away from their community, taken away from their culture and usually ... these children find themselves, as adults, trying to figure out who they are, where they belong and are somewhat lost."
"We as a  country have been repeating the same mistakes over and over again. If we keep on doing the same old stupid things, we're not going to see it stop. We're going to see it continue to rise without real benefit and without real change."
"It is not going to be a quick and dirty solution. A lot of governments, they want a solution before the next election. You have to gauge your success by a different time game. The solution is not measured in months or years but maybe in ten years, or tens of years."
John Beaucage, (first) Aboriginal Advisor to Ontario's Minister of Children and Youth Services
Photo Credit: Liam Sharp
"We had social workers untrained in the experience of First Nations people; they'd walk onto these reserves, see all this poverty and devastation and children from the residential school system -- who are now parents -- in a lot of trauma and, instead of seeing that for what it was, they removed the kids all over again."
Cindy Blackstock, executive director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

"First Nations families are still experiencing the wrongful taking of their children on spurious grounds. There is still widespread, unnecessary and unwarranted removal of children."
"Many, many loving and perfectly good aboriginal homes don't meet a province's standard of requirements for being foster homes. There are different cultural norms on how children should be raised."
Katherine Hensel, lawyer representing First Nations and aboriginal organizations
Deaths of Alberta aboriginal children in care no ‘fluke of statistics’UBC professor Shelly Johnson says many First Nations foster parents do not have proper training and support to deal with high-needs children.
"If we deem a home to be a good home and a safe place for a child -- but it might not meet all the provincial standards -- we try to be as flexible and creative as we can."
"We have a mandate that is both from the government but also from our First Nations. We're not just in the business of child welfare, we are also in the business of rebuilding our nation by rebuilding our families."
Theresa Stevens, executive director, Anishinaabe Abinoojii Family Services

Photo: University of Regina professor Raven Sinclair laments that the number of aboriginal children dying in care ‘is not a fluke of statistics.’ Credit: Supplied.
"We don't need someone with a PhD to come and tell us what the problems are. We know what the problems are. Because they end up in child care, they end up in drugs and alcohol."
"It wounded us to our core and sometimes it is hard to move forward when you are wounded. But the answers do not all come from Ottawa [federal government]."
"We need to look at ourselves. We can do more as a community. We can do more as parents ... it's not only more money and more resources. We have the skill, we have the capacity, we have the experience -- now give us the way to help our own people."
Goyce Kakgamic, deputy grand chief, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Chief Kakegamic, born in Keewaywin First Nation in Northern Ontario was raised traditionally but also had experience in a residential school. University educated, he is responsible for social services for member bands across northern Ontario, most so remote that they are fly-in reserves, with poor infrastructure as a result of their difficulty of access. He expresses faith in his people's ability to do better than they have. He also acknowledges that responsibility and guilt are two-way streets.

Some 15% of children in Canada that are in care are of aboriginal origin, even though aboriginals comprise only 3% of the general population. The reality is that children living on reserves are eight times likelier than children living elsewhere in the country to be identified as requiring state intervention, and to be placed in care. But it is now not only provincial welfare authorities that make that determination, since First Nations now have their own child welfare services.

Statistics and studies state that the majority of First Nation child removals from their family situations into care are not necessarily the result of abuse, but are due to concerns of neglect. And, needless to say, interpreting neglect becomes a factor of culture and poverty. Repeatedly, claims are made that government must tackle the root causes leading to child apprehension, and to find that middle place between respect for cultural integrity and the maintenance of standards of care.

The federal Indian Act was altered in 1955 to have provincial laws apply on native reserves which was when the provinces began providing aboriginal child welfare services, funded by the federal government. That led to the 1960s when an estimated 20,000 native children were taken in for foster care and adoption, most often into non-aboriginal families in Canada, the United States and Europe. Until a lash-back when bands began to refuse entry to provincial child protection workers.

A lash-back that led to the introduction of aboriginal child welfare agencies mandated to handle child welfare services. Now there exist at least one such agency in every province but the northern territories and P.E.I., with 108 such aboriginal-run agencies across the country, and more to come. Sensitivity to the issue of heritage status is increasingly acute in Ontario where the Child and Family Services Act was amended in 2006 to require child protection workers to ascertain whether a child has Indian status.

All child protection agencies across the country operate on the basis of suspicion of maltreatment; physical, sexual or emotional abuse to account for their intervention on behalf of a child. Such malign abuse is beginning to take second place to intervention spurred first by concerns relating to neglect, substance abuse, lifestyle and even living conditions. "It is quite heartbreaking", said Katherine Hensel, emphasizing that cultural norms are different in First Nations communities and to be taken into account.

To put another perspective on the problem and how to approach and try to solve it, an investigation conducted last year by the Edmonton Journal/Calgary Herald newspapers found proportionately more children died in the care of an on-reserve Delegated First Nations Agency than those in the care of the province's Children and Family Services Agency.

Photo: With a braid of sweetgrass on her table, an aboriginal foster parent grieves the death of a child in her care. Credit: Ryan Jackson, Edmonton Journal.
In Manitoba the death of a five-year-old girl in 2005 after experiencing abuse in her mother's home on the Fisher River reserve three months after being returned to her mother's care, became a focus for the very phenomenon mentioned above.

And then the shocking case of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine of Manitoba's Sagkeeng First Nation in the care of a child and family services agency, her lifeless body found wrapped in plastic in the Red River, amid signs of sexual abuse.

"More and more, there is recognition that we need to find unique solutions in unique community circumstances. But we also need to make sure that the kids are OK. Aboriginal parents don't want their kids in appalling conditions any more than anybody else wants their kids in appalling conditions", commented Mary Ballantyne, executive director of the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies.

And then there are two recent cases where aboriginal girls were diagnosed with leukemia. After initially undergoing chemotherapy and a medical protocol that has proven to be 90% effective in such cases, their parents pulled them out of the hospital program treating them insisting the treatment was killing their children, not the leukemia, opting for traditional herbal medical treatments and other 'alternative' treatments at clinics known to practise medical quackery.

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