Broten voices commitment to helping aboriginal kids

Duane Hicks

Ontario’s Minister of Children and Youth Services said she’s committed to producing better outcomes for aboriginal children by working closely with native child welfare agencies and communities.
Addressing the provincial native child welfare conference hosted by Weechi-it-te-win Family Services Inc. here last week, Laurel Broten said she has learned there are more aboriginal children and youth in care today than there was at the height of the residential school era (known as the “60’s Scoop Era”), adding “this is simply not acceptable.”
“It is not the future that any of us want for First Nations’ kids, for your kids, for our kids,” she remarked last Thursday at La Place Rendez-Vous.
“We want aboriginal children and youth to be able to strive to reach their full potential, to be supported by a family and their community as they grow and learn, and that is why I am determined to build a stronger, more trusting and meaningful relationship with the chiefs and councils—so that we can all work together to find a pathway . . . that will best serve the kids and families we are all committed to.
“But there are no easy solutions, no quick fixes . . . we all know these are complex issues and that the solutions are equally complex,” Broten warned.
“That is why it is so critical that we continue to work together to address them.”
Broten, appointed as the minister last October, said the province appointed John Beaucage earlier this year as her aboriginal advisor, whose “insightful words have been a guiding force to the work that we have been doing over the past year.”
Beaucage, a former Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation, currently is CEO of the Lake Huron Anishinabek Transmission Company.
Broten said Beaucage has been talking and listening to native leaders across Ontario as to how the province can better support kids, adding Beaucage is working with her to continue to build strong relationships with First Nations’ leaders.
“We know that there are bigger conversations to have about aboriginal child welfare in Ontario. We want to have that conversation,” pledged Broten, noting she, Beaucage, and the chiefs are trying to bring together leaders and experts for a summit next spring “to find solutions that will support better outcomes for aboriginal children and youth and their families.”
Broten said she received the first report from the Commission to Support Sustainable Child Welfare earlier this summer, which recommended modernizing the child welfare system, making it more efficient and accountable by streamlining processes and amalgamating some Children’s Aid Societies (CAS) to improve sustainability.
“And while they will be recommending the amalgamation of some CASs, I want to reassure you, to be clear, that we will not be consolidating aboriginal CASs,” Broten vowed.
“We are committed to mandated aboriginal CASs. We are sensitive to traditional practices and cultural differences.
“We recognize that you serve widespread regions, remote communities, and deal with exceptional circumstances every single day,” she added.
Broten said the province also remains committed to designation, which is why the Liberal government ended the previous government’s moratorium on new Children’s Aid Societies and designated two new aboriginal children’s aid societies: Native Child and Family Services in Toronto and Anishinaabe Abinoojii Family Services (AAFS) in Kenora.
“Our commitment to designation also means we acknowledge the need for a more clear, transparent, and mutually-accountable process so that more First Nations’ kids and families can be supported in ways consistent with rich cultural practices, traditions, and aboriginal best practices,” she remarked.
Broten said one of her key priorities is the sustainability of aboriginal CASs, which is why they receive sustainable funding and also why she stepped outside the funding formula to provide an additional $8.5 million in dedicated annualized funding to meet the unique needs of the aboriginal community and First Nations’ children and families.
In addition to the financial investment, Broten said she’s learned one of the best ways to support better outcomes for children “is to keep kids connected to their families, their traditions, their communities, their nations,” adding cultural retention and restorative healing practices are critically linked to better outcomes for kids and their families.
Broten noted the federal government withdrew funding for the band representative function several years ago, and that she has learned this loss has been felt by aboriginal families who need their support when dealing with child welfare and judicial processes put in place to protect kids.
She said she’s committed to working with Ontario chiefs to call on Ottawa to reinstate funding for band representatives so that First Nation community leaders can continue to play a meaningful role in ensuring best outcomes for their communities’ kids.
Broten said there have been successes, like the Aboriginal Healthy Babies, Healthy Children, Akwe:go, and Wasa-Nabin programs, but admitted “we still have much farther to go.”
“We all want every child to have a good life, good health, and good opportunities, a safe and stable home and community, a good education, a good job, and a successful future,” she remarked.
“And we want to ensure that tradition and teachings continue to provide a solid foundation for our First Nation children and youth.”
Broten added the ministry will listen to the wisdom of the elders, the compassion of the grandmothers, and traditional teachings to help make this happen.
She also thanked conference organizers and elders for welcoming her, and Grand Council Treaty #3 Chief Diane Kelly for her advocacy.
As well, Broten congratulated Weechi-it-te-win Family Services which, for more than 20 years, has held true to its “mission of preserving culture, identity, strengthening family, community, and ensuring the growth and development of all children in your nation.”
Chief Kelly said she’s met with Broten several times, and has talked with her about the challenges Treaty #3 First Nations’ communities face and the importance of traditional ways.
“Our Anishinaabe ways are so important to us. It’s not just a process, it’s not just a procedure that we follow,” she stressed.
“When you really do believe in the ways, and really do follow the ways, it can open your eyes to a very good life.
“In fact, for myself, it was the traditional ways that saved me, and helped me through some of difficulties I had earlier on in my life,” Chief Kelly admitted.
“So I am always extremely thankful and acknowledge our traditional ways.
“I hope Minister Broten and the people you brought with you can recognize the significance,” she added.
Chief Kelly also noted she felt the appointment of Beaucage “is an important step” to bridging understanding between the ministry and First Nations.
Broten was honoured with the gift of an eagle feather Thursday, as were Chief Kelly, Weechi-it-te-win Family Services president Rose Tuesday, and Basil Greene of the AAFS in Kenora.
Elder Calvin Ottertail explained the relevance of the eagle feather as sacred, and asked the recipients to treat theirs with respect, like it was their child.
Broten also was presented a “star blanket” to signify the new working relationship between Grand Council Treaty #3, Weechi-it-te-win, AAFS, and the ministry.