June 29, 2011
"Enough is enough!"
Gilbert Whiteduck, Anishinabe
In the 1970s, Gilbert Whiteduck tried to establish closer ties with the school board in his area, without success. He remembers a principal’s paternalistic words: "You little Indians always complain. Go build your school. You’ll come crawling back asking us to let you back in." That was it! With the help of his community, he founded a primary and secondary school in Kitigan-Zibi based on the Quebec curriculum, but enriched it with elements of the Anishinabe culture. It was a success. Proof that by standing up for what you believe in, you can choose your way and go much further.
Article published on Monday, January 29, 2018 at 3:13 p.m., updated on January 30, 2018 at 11:22 a.m., on the Ici Radio-Canada website.https://ici.radio-canada.ca/espaces-autochtones/1080934/les-atikamekw-maintenant-responsables-de-la-protection-de-la-jeunesse-dans-leurs-communautes
THE ATIKAMEKW NOW RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUTH PROTECTION IN THEIR COMMUNITIES
The Council of the Atikamekw Nation (CNA) becomes the first Indigenous nation in Quebec to formally establish an agreement with the government to set up its own youth protection regime. A signature that comes 17 years after the modification of the Youth Protection Act allowing for such an agreement.
– Text by Marie-Laure Josselin
Atikamekw children and youth in Wemotaci and Manawan living in either of these communities or in the urban territory of La Tuque will now be covered by the CNA's social protection system.
“This signature represents recognition by Quebec authorities of the special regime that is the Atikamekw authority intervention system. It’s also a step towards autonomy, towards Atikamekw governance.”
Alice Cleary, Director of Social Protection at the CNA
It’s also a source of great pride for all Atikamekw, because the Nation has been working on this issue for years.
A pilot project has been conducted in these communities since 2000. It’s called: the Atikamekw Authority Intervention System (SIAA).
The SIAA deals with situations normally handled by the Director of Youth Protection (DYP): situations where a child's safety is compromised, such as sexual assault, physical abuse or neglect, but also situations involving young offenders.
It’s a system designed by and for the Atikamekws. “Right from the start, we work with families. Engaging the extended family is also very important,” says CNA Director of Social Protection, Alice Cleary. It’s a collective approach with individual, family and community responsibility.”
“There has been much success,” says Alice Cleary.
Keeping children in their environment
Prior to the year 2000, youth cases were mainly handled by outside resources, by non-Indigenous people and many children were placed in a foreign setting for foster care. Nowadays, on average, 80% of children stay with their immediate family, with their extended family or in an Atikamekw foster family. When the SIAA intervenes, several steps are planned, the last one being the judicialization. First and foremost, there’s a family council, which includes the director of social protection, the parents, the child, ideally grandparents and any other significant person in the child's inner circle. The objective: to determine the measures to correct the situation, because as with the DYP, the majority of cases stem from negligence. During counselling, explanations and interventions are made in Atikamekw, in a different location than those used by social services: forest, community centre...
A program that works
The Special Advisor to the CNA's director of youth protection, Lucie Dubé, confirms that an intervention according to Atikamekw values and traditions has an impact on protection services. “When we intervene, Atikamekw people are reassured that they can be served in their language, with respect to their culture, their identity.”
At least 90% of the problems are resolved at family council, which also identifies the people who will be caregivers. They will support the implementation of measures to end the problematic situation.
“Collective responsibility can have an impact on the Atikamekw intervention process to keep the child in foster care, to ensure good communication and a good relationship between families when a child is placed in foster care.”
Author Lucie Dubé, Special Advisor to the CNA's Director of Social Protection
In a case where a child is placed in a non-Atikamekw foster family, “it’s up to us, the Atikamekw, to ensure that the family allows the language and culture to be maintained, that's what's important”, says Alice Cleary, who explains that since everyone knows each other, “we are very mindful to maintain social peace, but also to avoid any contact between an abuser and a child if such a case arises”.
When the cases are more serious, with police intervention, the criminal justice system will in any case overlap.
In terms of judicialization, the SIAA observed a decrease of nearly 80%, starting in 2001.
Within six months, the Director of Social Protection of the Council of the Atikamekw Nation will act in full autonomy. However, explains the Council’s advocate Anne Fournier, the ministers responsible for law enforcement still have oversight.
In Canada, Indigenous children represent 7.7% of the population, but Indigenous children represent 52% of children placed in foster care.
Reportedly, the Mohawks of Kahnawake are also negotiating an agreement with the Government of Quebec for a special regime as well.
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