Indigenous communities in the Northwest Territories are not included in a $40-billion Indigenous child welfare settlement that the federal government announced Jan. 4, according to the Dene Nation.

The Assembly of First Nations recently held an emergency conference on the matter, Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine said in a Jan. 6 news release.

“Dene National Chief Antoine will continue to engage on this issue as he consults with Elders and advisers on the path forward,” the Dene Nation stated.

A spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada did not explicitly deny Antoine’s claim, however, the individual noted that negotiations had just started.

“The Agreements-in-Principle announced on January 4, 2022, provide a basis for final settlement agreements to be negotiated over the coming months,” said Megan MacLean of Indigenous Services Canada. “Once the final settlement agreements are reached and the necessary CHRT and Federal Court orders are made, children and families harmed by discriminatory underfunding will be compensated and measures will be implemented to better meet the needs of children, youth and families and to prevent this type of discrimination from recurring.

“Canada and the Parties will negotiate final settlement agreements on compensation and long-term reform of the First Nations child and family services program. The final agreement on compensation will spell out the roles and responsibilities of the parties and others in the distribution of compensation to First Nations children and families.

“The final agreement on long-term reform of the First Nations Child and Family Services program will outline how Canada will put in place new funding to improve services for children and families.

“Details outlining the way forward will be made available once final settlement agreements are reached.”

The two draft settlements have been agreed to in principle, but still need to be ratified. Under the agreement, which amounts to the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history, the federal government will spend $20 billion to compensate children forced into foster care since 1991, when the federal First Nations Child and Family Services (FNCFS) program went into effect. Another $20 billion will be spent reforming the program over five years. The deal ends 15 years of legal disputes and will impact more than 200,000 children across Canada.

The matter started with a formal complaint filed with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2007. A subsequent lawsuit claimed the Department of Indian Affairs was racist in how it funded child welfare services on Indigenous reserves. It also argued the federal government failed to implement Jordan’s Principle — putting greater priority on care for children rather than which jurisdiction pays for it. Instead, prevention services were limited to a fixed amount of funding, while child apprehension agencies were fully reimbursed for their expenses seizing children from reserves and sending them to foster homes.

Compensation for people affected by the program begins at $40,000 per person and will not be capped.

It is estimated there are more than 40,000 Indigenous children in the Canadian foster care system.

Eric Bowling

Your source for all things happening in the Beaufort Delta. Eric jumped at the chance to write for the Inuvik Drum after cutting his teeth in Alberta. He enjoys long walks, loud music and strong coffee....

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