It was a day to remember last week for members of Wabaseemoong Independent Nation, along with federal and provincial ministers as they jointly signed a child and family services coordination agreement.

The coordination agreement now allows Wabasseemoong to have full legislative authority on the well-being of child and family services within the community, which now has support at the federal and provincial levels.

Keeping youth closer to home has long been an issue for Indigenous service providers, who say taking children away from their homes can severely impact their mental health, well-being, and development. Research shows keeping youth at home also leads to improved economic outcomes.

Patty Hadju, federal Minister of Indigenous Services was on hand for the signing and said this agreement will change lives.

“It’s going to change lives today, it’s going to change lives in the future,” said Hadju. “This is the first in Ontario the second in Canada and but it won’t be the last.”

Children Mar 15.jpg Children of Wabaseemoong holding signed copies of the agreement. Photo credit: Alicia McDonald. 

The first-ever coordination agreement was signed on July 9, 2021, between the federal government and the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.

The coordination agreement also supports the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations’ Customary Care Code, which has had force of federal law since January 8, 2021. The Code has been in the works since 2011 and was approved by the Nations’ leadership in 2017.

Customary care is defined as the care and supervision of an Indigenous child by a person who is not the child’s parents, according to the custom of the child’s band or First Nations community.

Wabaseemoong’s lawyers say the Code is a ‘culturally embedded law premised of the beliefs of the Nation that their children are the sacred responsibility of the Anishinaabeg as endowed by the Creator.’

“Your work is going to help other communities that are not as not far along in their journey have a roadmap, a template of how to do this so that we can sign more agreements and we can as governments get out of the way,” added Hadju.

Wabaseemoong Chief Waylon Scott said this agreement is a step in the right direction towards Truth and Reconciliation.

“By letting Indigenous communities take the lead and working in partnership, you can see by this historic event the strides that can be made, and making those changes for the youth is fundamental in all the work we do,” said Scott.

Statistics from a variety of organizations show that Ontario’s move is years in the making. The first five calls to action of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, December 2015, called on the government to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care.

Greg Rickford, Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs, said in his address that this agreement signing brings forward a new season.

“The achievements of Wabaseemoong are a testament to the communities commitment to self-determination because today our government is signing and acknowledging the first coordination agreement in Ontario,” explained Rickford.

The coordination agreement also provides for mechanisms to address funding from the federal and provincial governments to ensure the necessary financial resources are in place.

Currently, 36 First Nation communities across Canada have submitted a notice of intention to exercise legislative authority to Indigenous Services Canada.

Out of the 36 Nations, a handful of local First Nations have submitted their notice of intention, which include Eagle Lake, Mishkeegogamang, and Pikangikum First Nations.

Between 1989 and 2012, on-reserve First Nation youth were found to be 12 times more likely to go into child welfare care. In 2016, Indigenous youth were found to make up over 52 per cent of children in foster care.

The federal government made $542 million available to First Nation communities in 2020 to take over child welfare under federal jurisdiction, rather than provincial.

An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children, youth, and families came into effect in 2020. Below is the full description of the Coordination Agreement as per the Government of Canada website.

Coordination agreement

(2) The Indigenous governing body may also request that the Minister and the government of each of those provinces enter into a coordination agreement with the Indigenous governing body in relation to the exercise of the legislative authority, respecting, among other things,

  • (a) the provision of emergency services to ensure the safety, security and well-being of Indigenous children;

  • (b) support measures to enable Indigenous children to exercise their rights effectively;

  • (c) fiscal arrangements, relating to the provision of child and family services by the Indigenous governing body, that are sustainable, needs-based and consistent with the principle of substantive equality in order to secure long-term positive outcomes for Indigenous children, families and communities and to support the capacity of the Indigenous group, community or people to exercise the legislative authority effectively; and

  • (d) any other coordination measure related to the effective exercise of the legislative authority.

Below is the video of the ceremony and signing of the agreement courtesy of WOLFE Event Production: