Residential school ‘monster’ now lives in child-welfare system: senator

Sen. Murray Sinclair said there are more children in Canada’s child-welfare system today than there were at the height of residential schools

canadian politics

Sen. Murray Sinclair says if the child-welfare system existed in its current form when he was a boy, he would have been cut off from his family and cultural heritage.

The chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools and Manitoba’s first Indigenous judge was raised by his grandparents just outside Winnipeg.

“We would have been apprehended by the child-welfare system if it had been organized as it is today,” he told social workers, bureaucrats and academics at a national child welfare conference Friday.

He said his grandparents would have been deemed too old to have cared for him, had today’s rules applied. Their house didn’t have electricity or running water and was crowded.

“We sometimes didn’t have enough to eat. We barely had enough wood in the winter time to keep the place warm, but we managed,” he said.

“And we managed because of the strong-willed nature of my grandmother who insisted that everybody participate in the raising of those children, those little children who came into her life.”

Sinclair said there are more children in Canada’s child-welfare system today than there were at the height of residential schools, which housed Indigenous children forcibly taken from their communities in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said amounted to cultural genocide.

“The monster that was created in the residential schools moved into a new house,” Sinclair said. “And that monster now lives in the child- welfare system.”

Sinclair’s home province of Manitoba has the highest per-capita rate of children in care in the country. As of March 31, there were more than 10,300 kids in care — almost 90 per cent Indigenous.

Sinclair said some children may flourish in non-Indigenous foster families, but the vast majority have been failed because they have been cut off from their family traditions.

“They come out of it not knowing where they come from, where they’re going, why they’re here and who they are.”

Sinclair said most social workers want to do good, but must acknowledge they are working in a system that hurts Indigenous children.

“They have to … be willing to stick their necks out a bit and do what is the right thing within the rules they’re bound by, instead of defaulting to a view that is founded on principles of racism that go back 150 years,” he said in an interview.

Not enough has been done to recruit Indigenous people into decision-making roles and nearly two-thirds of the urban population have been ill-served by reserve-run child-welfare agencies, he added.

Monty Montgomery, a University of Regina social work professor with 25 years experience in Indigenous child welfare, said training and resources for First-Nations-run welfare organizations are slowly improving.

“What we’re really talking about is incremental change and we don’t notice it maybe from week to week or month to month,” said Montgomery. “There is progress and good things are happening here.”

Alex Scheiber, who chairs a committee of provincial and territorial child-welfare leaders, said tinkering with the system isn’t good enough. Simply adding more Indigenous social workers and policy-makers won’t suffice.

“There’s a reason why it’s hard to retain and attract Indigenous people. We’re asking them to come and work in a system that is failing their people,” he said.

Scheiber said he’s encouraged by steps taken by his home province of British Columbia to shift more decision-making to First Nations.

And he believes there’s reason for optimism.

“I have had the feeling over the last 18 months that we are on the brink of the biggest change in child welfare in Canadian history,” he said.

“I would like to think that within 10 years time, we will look back at this period of time as being transformational.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Cariboo waterways swell as special weather statement, rain continues Thursday July 2

Quesnel River at Likely and Quesnel Lake seeing 20 to 50 year events

QUIZ: Put your knowledge of Canada to the test

How much do you know about our country?

Commercial fishery closed tonight due to local concerns

The fishery was supposed to open tonight

Staff at checkpoint experiencing threats, racism says Nuxalk EOC

The staff at the checkpoint have been subject to threatening behaviour on multiple occasions

B.C. reopening travel not sitting well with several First Nations

A number of safety conditions have yet to be met Indigenous leaders maintain

‘This year is unlike any other’: Trudeau delivers Canada day address

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and the Prime Minister release video celebrating the national holiday

Canada Day tractor incident kills three children, injures seven in Quebec

The tractor driver has been arrested following the accident

Undercover operation exposes prominent human trafficking problem in Greater Victoria

VicPD’s Operation No More took place in mid-June at a local hotel

Tsilhqot’in Nation demands meeting with feds on declining Fraser River chinook stocks

The Nation wants to partner with DFO to rebuild and recover the stocks

PHOTOS: Dual rallies take over Legislature lawn on Canada Day

Resist Canada 153 highlighted colonization and genocide, Unify the People called COVID a hoax

Gov. General honours Canadians for bravery, volunteer service

Five categories of winners presented on Canada Day

COVID-19: Should non-medical masks be mandatory in Canada?

New poll shows Canadians are divided on the rules around mandatory masks

‘A little bit scary for everybody’: Air passengers wary as new rules take effect

Masks or face coverings have been mandatory on flights since April 20

Most Read