(Ottawa, ON) – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde says the report released today by the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth underscores the need to address long-standing failures in approaches by governments across a range of systems, including education, health and mental wellness, and victim support services, in regard to the care and safety of First Nations children.
“This report lays bare the reality that First Nations children and families are still impacted by a history of colonialism and government policies aimed at breaking apart our cultures, our families and our nations,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “Children are our most sacred gifts from the Creator, and the systems that should be protecting them are failing them. I continue to offer support to the family and friends of Tina Fontaine as they seek justice and healing. The focus now must be reducing risk. We need urgent action by governments and agencies to work with First Nations families, leaders and experts to act on these recommendations among others. Our guiding principle must be the best interests of the child, including fostering strong connections to their kin and their cultures. I look forward to public progress reports on this important work.”
Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth Daphne Penrose this morning released a special report published after an investigation in accordance with The Advocate for Children and Youth Act. The report, A Place Where it Feels Like Home: The Story of Tina Fontaine, contains five recommendations directed at the Manitoba government, government systems and public bodies. It was released in Tina Fontaine’s home community of Sagkeeng First Nation and aims to uncover truths and honour Tina Fontaine’s legacy.
The 115-page report contains pointed comments on the impacts of colonialism, specifically stating that Tina Fontaine “carried a burden that was not her own”. It offers five recommendations in the areas of education, health and mental wellness, victim support services and child and family services. Ms. Penrose revealed her office will be tracking government compliance with the recommendations publicly.
“This report is a clear call to action for the government to work with First Nations to keep our children safe,” said AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart, who holds the portfolio for Child Welfare. “The report states that Manitoba has the highest prevalence rate of missing children and youth in the country. We cannot stand by and wait for another tragedy to prompt action. Our children are the center of the circle of our nations. We are taking action and we must keep up momentum. The AFN worked to ensure legislation on First Nations child welfare was put forward last month that will support our right and our jurisdiction to take responsibility for our children. This is one piece of much larger reforms that are needed. My thoughts are with the family of Tina Fontaine as they receive this report, and I want today to mark a new beginning in the safety and protection of our children.”
The August 2014 death of 15-year old Tina Fontaine drew national attention and highlighted the national priority of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Raymond Cormier was acquitted of second-degree murder charges by jury in February 2018.
First Nations have called for changes to the justice system in Canada, including increased representation by First Nations on juries and support for First Nations approaches to justice, including restorative justice.
Following years of pressure and advocacy for action and reform, last month the federal government introduced federal legislation on Indigenous child welfare that recognizes First Nations jurisdiction over child and family services.
The AFN continues to call for a coordinated national action plan to provide safety and security for First Nations women and girls that would include shelters and safe spaces, education and training, transportation, daycare and other supports. The National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is expected to conclude June 2019.
The full report by the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth is available at https://manitobaadvocate.ca/wp-content/uploads/MACY-Special-Report-March-2019-Tina-Fontaine-FINAL1.pdf
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada. Follow AFN on Twitter @AFN_Comms, AFN_Updates.