The indigenous children of NL are still taken away.But the foster care system is slowly changing

Warning: The following story contains disturbing details

“Wolf” was about to finish his coffee when his front door suddenly opened.

A social worker, accompanied by a policeman, broke in and announced that Wolf’s child had now been detained by the government. Wolf protested, but his request fell on deaf ears.

“‘Shut up,'” he recalled the social worker yelling. “‘I can do it because I can.'”

Today, about six years later, Wolf recalled the terrible memory-his three daughters and granddaughter were driven away at night, and in the following four years, they struggled to bring them back to Nain-heard News of the children’s remains found at the Kamloops Indian Boarding School.

“Nothing has changed,” he said by phone from his home in the northern community of Labrador. He said that families who need help caring for children on Labrador Inuit land have repeatedly lost them to foster families scattered across the province. “We are still brought down.”

Of the 970 children in the foster care system in Newfoundland and Labrador, 340 are Aboriginal children. Many of them have been taken away from their home communities, far away from their extended families, and have been estranged in a foreign country for months or years.

“Wolf” is a pseudonym because CBC News could not determine his identity under the provincial legislation protecting children in care. But in an interview, he publicly expressed his hope that his story would be known, and that he hoped that this problem would be dragged out of closed doors and it would bring changes to other suffering parents.

Wolf initially asked for his daughter to be placed with a family friend in nearby Makkovik. He told CBC News that his social worker refused, claiming that his family did not want them.

He said that Wolf’s daughter had recently turned 13 and she said she wanted to commit suicide after being forced into foster care in Gambo, nearly 1,000 kilometers away. He and his wife discovered her suicide note.

“I don’t know where to go,” he said.

Drive change

Jackie Lake Kavanagh, an advocate for children and youth in the province, put the foster care system under a microscope in a 2019 report. Last week, she provided an update on 33 recommendations to the provincial government to improve child welfare in Labrador.

None of this has been completed.

Kawana Lake said: “This really reflects the entire discussion around colonialism and its impact on indigenous communities, and the relocation of children.”

“They have lost contact with their language. They have lost contact with their traditions. I think we have seen that this is inherently harmful.”

Kavanahu stated that the province has made progress in 30 of the 33 recommendations, including more opportunities for housing and the transfer of responsibility for foster care to Inuit leaders. But she is frustrated by the statistics: Two years ago, the number of Aboriginal children in foster care in the province was almost the same.

Residents of Nain gathered last week to share their views on the similarities between the child welfare system and the legacy of boarding schools. (Submitted by Michelle Kinney)

She said that many problems are systemic. Housing and food prices in Labrador may prevent potential foster families in the area from temporarily opening their doors to young people, while others are struggling with poverty and mental illness. She said this is a resource issue, not a matter of willpower-insufficient housing and grocery bills, as well as intergenerational trauma at boarding schools, will cause family conflicts and keep the number of adoptive parents in the area low.

She said that the most important thing is for the government to complete her proposal, and she is confident to bring these hundreds of children home.

“We now have a whole new generation to take care of, many of whom have already been taken away [from their communities],” she says.

“We may see the results in future generations.”

‘Hatred is a strong word’

The Ministry of Children, Seniors and Social Development, which oversees the welfare of children in the province, said it takes these recommendations at heart but will not provide updated information on the status of the Kawana Lake inventory.

Minister John Abbott said it would be “ideal” for all Inuit children to remain on Inuit land, Emphasize that the department is focusing on shifting to preventive care, aiming to place resources and social workers in the community to avoid family breakdown. However, it is not clear how much his department plans to invest in these changes.

Michel Kinney, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Development of the Inuit Government on the northern coast of Labrador, Nunaziyavut, said that her government has taken the lead in keeping Inuit children under its jurisdiction and encouraging more Kinship agreements allow children to stay with the extended family. She said that the number of foster families in Nuna Siyavut is increasing, and more and more children are going home.

Residents of Nain pointed out that the province’s foster care system often fails to reflect the way Inuit raise children or handle disputes. (Submitted by Michelle Kinney)

She said that although Kinney said she had encountered the growth troubles of the provincial government, the department was slowly adapting to the self-determination of the Inuit.

For the Nain people, this is vital to repair the wounds left by the Newfoundland and Labrador boarding school. In the community vigil last week, residents talked about the similarities between foster care and the history of indigenous boarding schools in the province, and pointed out that social workers usually don’t take the time to make meaningful connections with the families they manage and avoid them. In-depth dialogue-one participant described it as a “true Inuit way” to solve problems.

Abbott would not confirm his department’s recognition of a link between the legacy of boarding schools and the status quo of child welfare in Labrador.

“We don’t necessarily have to draw these similarities,” Abbott said, “but I can certainly understand why that experience… triggers these feelings.”

Wolf’s daughters are now settled, no longer talking about suicide, but slowly talking about the four years in Gambo. Wolfe himself is doing the same thing. He said that he stopped drinking, and he also learned not to hate those who took his daughter away.

“I don’t like their behavior,” he said. “Hatred is a strong word.”

Anyone affected by the lingering influence of boarding schools and those affected by the latest report can get support.

A nationwide Indian boarding school crisis hotline has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can call the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419 for emotional and crisis referral services.

read more CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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