Residential school ‘monster’ now lives in child-welfare system: senator

Sen. Murray Sinclair said there are more children in Canada’s child-welfare system today than there were at the height of residential schools

canadian politics

Sen. Murray Sinclair says if the child-welfare system existed in its current form when he was a boy, he would have been cut off from his family and cultural heritage.

The chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools and Manitoba’s first Indigenous judge was raised by his grandparents just outside Winnipeg.

“We would have been apprehended by the child-welfare system if it had been organized as it is today,” he told social workers, bureaucrats and academics at a national child welfare conference Friday.

He said his grandparents would have been deemed too old to have cared for him, had today’s rules applied. Their house didn’t have electricity or running water and was crowded.

“We sometimes didn’t have enough to eat. We barely had enough wood in the winter time to keep the place warm, but we managed,” he said.

“And we managed because of the strong-willed nature of my grandmother who insisted that everybody participate in the raising of those children, those little children who came into her life.”

Sinclair said there are more children in Canada’s child-welfare system today than there were at the height of residential schools, which housed Indigenous children forcibly taken from their communities in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said amounted to cultural genocide.

“The monster that was created in the residential schools moved into a new house,” Sinclair said. “And that monster now lives in the child- welfare system.”

Sinclair’s home province of Manitoba has the highest per-capita rate of children in care in the country. As of March 31, there were more than 10,300 kids in care — almost 90 per cent Indigenous.

Sinclair said some children may flourish in non-Indigenous foster families, but the vast majority have been failed because they have been cut off from their family traditions.

“They come out of it not knowing where they come from, where they’re going, why they’re here and who they are.”

Sinclair said most social workers want to do good, but must acknowledge they are working in a system that hurts Indigenous children.

“They have to … be willing to stick their necks out a bit and do what is the right thing within the rules they’re bound by, instead of defaulting to a view that is founded on principles of racism that go back 150 years,” he said in an interview.

Not enough has been done to recruit Indigenous people into decision-making roles and nearly two-thirds of the urban population have been ill-served by reserve-run child-welfare agencies, he added.

Monty Montgomery, a University of Regina social work professor with 25 years experience in Indigenous child welfare, said training and resources for First-Nations-run welfare organizations are slowly improving.

“What we’re really talking about is incremental change and we don’t notice it maybe from week to week or month to month,” said Montgomery. “There is progress and good things are happening here.”

Alex Scheiber, who chairs a committee of provincial and territorial child-welfare leaders, said tinkering with the system isn’t good enough. Simply adding more Indigenous social workers and policy-makers won’t suffice.

“There’s a reason why it’s hard to retain and attract Indigenous people. We’re asking them to come and work in a system that is failing their people,” he said.

Scheiber said he’s encouraged by steps taken by his home province of British Columbia to shift more decision-making to First Nations.

And he believes there’s reason for optimism.

“I have had the feeling over the last 18 months that we are on the brink of the biggest change in child welfare in Canadian history,” he said.

“I would like to think that within 10 years time, we will look back at this period of time as being transformational.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Growing coffee, tea, lemons and papayas right here in Chilliwack

‘Anything that is grown anywhere on the planet we can grow’

Family of Chilliwack pilot killed in Honduras trying to ‘piece together’ tragedy

Patrick Forseth has a number of friends in the area and was loved by everyone

UPDATE: Highway 1 reopened after multi-vehicle crash east of Chilliwack

Westbound lanes near Herrling Island were closed for hours amid busy holiday weekend traffic

Chilliwack man killed in Honduras plane crash ‘well loved’ by island locals: sister

Family member confirmed Patrick Forseth was killed Sunday morning

Semi truck crashes into highway barrier cable near Chilliwack

Witnesses warning other drivers to watch for debris in other lanes

Rescuers finally persuade Eiffel Tower climber to come down

The official said the man was ‘under control and out of danger’ on Monday night

Motorcycle deaths spike 50% since 2017

Riders were most likely fatally crash on the weekends compared with the rest of the week

5 to start your day

Corgis put on a show at the Cloverdale Rodeo, family of B.C. pilot killed in Honduras remembers him and more

Justin Trudeau credits immigration for Canada’s growing tech sector

Trudeau stressed that Canada has become a major source of talent for tech all over the world

Feds launch tourism strategy designed to boost sector 25 per cent by 2025

The fund is supposed to back experiences that show off Canada’s strengths

Man arrested after police standoff and fire at Abbotsford home

Suspect allegedly breached conditions to not be near victim or her home

Should B.C. already be implementing province-wide fire bans?

A petition is calling for B.C. Wildfire Service to issue a ban to reduce risk of human caused wildfires

Growing wildfire prompts evacuation of High Level, Alta.

Chuckegg Creek fire has been burning for several days, but grew substantially Sunday

Most Read