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Alberta First Nation signs two-year agreement with Ottawa to administer its own child welfare

An Alberta First Nation has signed a two-year treaty with Ottawa that gives it autonomy in managing the welfare of its children.

The Louis Bull Tribe of Maskwacis, Alta., about 100 kilometers south of Edmonton, is the first in the province to sign an agreement.

“This is an important day for the Louis Bull Tribe,” Chief Desmond Bull said during the signing. “Our children are sacred. This law is trying to bring them home.”

The First Nation says it’s a bilateral deal with the federal government and doesn’t involve the province.

Last year, Louis Bull’s children’s charity, the Asikiw Mostos O’pikinawasiwin Society, said Alberta was not cooperating and would not sign the agreement. Child welfare services for most Indigenous children are provided by the province or territory in which they live.

The state government did not respond to a request for comment.

Ottawa passed a Respect for First Nations, Inuit and Metis Children, Youth and Families Act in 2020 with a focus on prevention so families can receive support to stay together.

It allows First Nations to bypass coordination agreements with provincial governments if consensus is not reached a year after applying to administer their own child welfare services.

“Wherever there is a legal conflict – federal, provincial, local or any other First Nation – this Asikiw Mostos O’pikinawasiwin Act is of paramount importance,” says a press release from Indigenous Services Canada.

“Reducing the number of Indigenous children in care remains a priority for the AMO Society with support from the Canadian government.”

The Asikiw Mostos O’pikinawasiwin Society was established shortly after the passage of the federal law. The Society works to ensure that the First Nation has full authority over its children and family ministries.

‘A better future’

Catherine Lappe, Assistant Assistant Minister at Indigenous Services Canada, signed the agreement with Bull on behalf of Minister Patty Hadju during a ceremony.

“Louis Bull Tribe is leading the way towards a brighter future for their families and children,” Hadju said in a statement. “Canada’s colonial reality has hurt too many people for generations, but today Canada and the Louis Bull Tribe have a new way forward together.”

Bull said the law will ensure children grow up in their own culture.

“Although this is only a two-year agreement, it gives us the basis and foundation to look forward to developing something stronger, something more enduring, something that will allow this bilateral agreement to continue.”

Cowesse’s First Nation of Saskatchewan was the first to sign such an agreement in 2021. Ontario’s Wabaseemoong Independent Nations and Manitoba’s Peguis First Nation have also signed agreements with Ottawa and their provincial governments.

Dozens of other First Nations across the country are waiting for agreements.

The federal government will provide nearly $125 million to Louis Bull Tribe over the next two years to implement the Asikiw Mostos O’pikinawasiwin Act.

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