Eagle Lake FN moves to establish child welfare agency as hunger strike continues

Eagle Lake First Nation Chief Arnold Gardner says he and his council are sending a resolution to the provincial and federal governments declaring their intention to operate their own community-based child welfare agency.

The declaration comes as a member of the First Nation approaches the 50th day of a hunger strike to protest what she calls an oppressive child welfare system.  

The woman began her fast on Oct. 9 after a child welfare agency denied her a visit with her great grandchildren on the Thanksgiving weekend. Her visitation has yet to be restored, she said.

CBC News is not using the woman’s name to comply with provincial regulations that prohibit the public identification of children in the child welfare system.

The woman believes the conflict with the agency derives from differences between Anishinaabe and non-Indigenous ways of parenting, she said, and she will continue to live on nothing but fish broth, beef broth, pea soup broth and water infused with electrolytes until her community leadership makes progress on gaining authority over its own child welfare, she added.

“I’m feeling OK, considering the fact that I haven’t eaten anything, but I’m in pretty good spirits,” she told CBC Wednesday. “I’m feeling focused on what I’m doing.”  

3 reasons for hunger strike

There are three reasons for the hunger strike, the woman explained. First, she is protesting the denial of visitation with her great grandchildren. Secondly, she believes it is time for Indigenous communities to take control over their own child welfare agencies and eliminate the non-Indigenous influence of the provincial government. Third, she is striking in remembrance of Indigenous people who have died in the child welfare system and in solidarity with those who have survived it and are living in it currently. 

“As I’m doing this each day, I’m finding out more each day about how our people really truly feel about our agencies that have the Anishinaabe services names but operate under the 1965 Child Welfare Act,” she said. 

The federal government’s passage of Bill C-92 in June of 2019 appears to pave the way for First Nations to exercise control over their child welfare systems by acknowledging their legislative authority over child and family services — though a report by the Yellowhead Institute has raised concerns about possible limits to that authority. 

The woman wants the community’s leadership to exercise its rights under the new law, she said — something Gardner said it is doing with its resolution.

Support from Mushkegowuk Council of Chiefs

“It gives us the rights and jurisdiction over our children, including [for] the leadership to establish laws grounded in our culture, beliefs and values, to establish our own national standards and guidelines and give the control and decision-making back to our people,” the woman said.  

“What I would like to see is priority being given to preventative care, to shift … from a provincial apprehension model to a community prevention model and priority be given to services that promote preventative care to support families.”

Gardner, who has expressed support for the woman’s initiative, is not sure exactly how much progress she wishes to see toward that vision before ending her fast, he said.

“It’s going to take a long time, but that’s why we’re very concerned with the hunger strike,” he said.  “You know it’s not going to be happening in a month or two months. It might take years to develop our own child care law.” 

The Mushkegowuk Council of Chiefs issued a resolution in support of the woman’s actions on Nov. 20.

“First Nations have faced genocidal policies and systems that have destroyed our family systems,” wrote Deputy Grand Chief Rebecca Friday in a news release announcing the resolution. “We faced over a hundred years of Residential Schools where our children were forced to attend schools away from their communities in horrible circumstances. This was replaced by the Sixties Scoop when our children were taken away and put up for adoption. Now the child welfare system takes our children and places them in foster care away from our families and communities. It is
time for change.” 



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