Tuesday’s signing between Canada and the First Nations Child and family well-being Services is a significant achievement in Canada’s reconciliation with its Indigenous communities. The agreement empowers the Founding First Nations to take control and jurisdiction over child and family services for their Members and future generations. This agreement will bring life to Awaśak Wiyasiwêwin, a community-driven law reflecting each community’s histories, cultural practices, and unique aspirations in determining the best ways to care for their children, youth, and families.
The implementation of Awaśak Wiyasiwêwin is significant because it creates the office of the Onikanew (Cree for leader) to oversee and delegate powers and authorities under the new law. The law’s focus is on prevention to ensure that culturally appropriate, wrap-around, community-driven supports and services are available, including prenatal care for expectant mothers, so that children can stay with their families and their communities. This approach recognizes the importance of keeping children connected to their family, language, and culture, which is foundational to getting the best start in life.
The coordination agreement sets out how all parties will work together, including roles and responsibilities, processes, and coordination of services. The agreement ensures a smooth and effective transfer to the Founding First Nation jurisdiction, governed by Awaśak Wiyasiwêwin. The associated fiscal agreement establishes federal government funding to ensure the necessary financial resources are in place. Over the next five years, the agreement will transfer $149.4 million from the federal government to the FFNs to support their law implementation.
Implementing Awaśak Wiyasiwêwin and signing the coordination agreement are significant steps towards meaningful reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous communities. By working together, First Nations and their Crown partners in the federal and provincial governments can help First Nations determine their futures. This agreement sets the stage for First Nations to build a brighter, more enriched, and hopeful tomorrow for their children, their most precious assets.
The Act respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children, youth and families, which came into force on January 1, 2020, affirms the inherent right to self-government of Indigenous Peoples, including jurisdiction over child and family services. It provides a pathway for Indigenous communities to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services and sets out principles applicable, on a national level, to the provision of child and family services to Indigenous children.
In November 2020, the Prime Minister announced over $542 million in funding to advance First Nations, Inuit, and Métis engagement to co-develop the implementation of the Act and to support Indigenous communities and groups in building the capacity to establish their own child and family services systems. The funding is essential in building the capacity for Indigenous communities to establish their own child and family services systems and exercise their inherent right to self-government.
The signing of the coordination agreement is a significant step towards empowering Indigenous communities to exercise their inherent right to self-government and control over child and family services. As more and more coordination agreements are signed, more Indigenous children will be able to grow up in their communities, immersed in their cultures and surrounded by loved ones. This approach recognizes the importance of cultural continuity in ensuring the well-being of Indigenous children and families and marks an important step towards meaningful reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous communities.