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Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett (right) and FSIN vice-chief Heather Bear sign a letter of accord at the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina on July 24, 2017. (Brandon Harder/CBC) "By First Nations, for First Nations" may soon be the approach taken for the way child and family services are delivered in Saskatchewan’s First Nations communities.

As a symbol of partnership in an effort to reform child and family services for First Nations in this province, a letter of accord was signed by the federal government and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations on Monday. The Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett and FSIN vice-chief Heather Bear were the signatories.

As a "first step," the government is giving FSIN $440,000 to begin what Bennett referred to as a "redesign" of child and family services. The money is to help First Nations communities develop long-term, strategic planning that will facilitate a more community-based approach to how child care is delivered in the province. The reform aims to bring about a ‘by First Nations, for First Nations’ approach to the delivery of child and family services. (Brandon Harder/CBC) "Over these years — many, many, years — the federal and provincial government assumed they knew what was best for First Nations children," said Chief Matthew T. Peigan of Pasqua First Nation.

"This whole process that we’re establishing today is: let First Nations look after their own children."

"This is a complete turnaround," Bennett said, noting that a "bottom-up approach" will be part of the redesign.

"Communities know best, and have been doing it for millennia," she said. Approach questioned

In an opportunity for the press to ask questions following the signing, the point was brought up that the Yorkton Tribal Council has been criticized for mishandling child-care cases.

"You’re never going to address those problems until you have the valuable resources going into the communities," Bear said.

"Why do we have to fight to validate that our elders, our culture, our traditions is what’s going to help fix our people?" she asked. FSIN vice-chief Heather Bear was a signatory on the letter of accord at the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina on July 24, 2017. (Brandon Harder/CBC) Bennett reaffirmed her position that decisions about the care of First Nations children are better left to their communities.

"It’s the agency-ization of kids in care that has been a real problem, in decisions that get taken when they don’t know the community," she said.

Peigan argued that when an Indigenous child-care agency makes a mistake it’s scrutinized by the province and the federal government, but when the province makes a mistake there is nothing forcing it to do better.

"I agree that maybe there’s some areas where we’ve erred, but this whole process we’re looking at developing will clean up those areas," he said. Chief Matthew T. Peigan of Pasqua First Nation says the process will allow First Nations to look after their own children. (CBC News) Only the beginning

Bear sees the federal funds as a "down payment."

"We’re just getting kick-started here. We’re looking forward to other commitments," she said.

"It’s not near what we need to complete the job, but it’s an acknowledgement."

The redesign has been a long time coming, Bear said, noting that the FSIN’s Health and Social Development Secretariat has been working on a plan for the past decade, which they’ll now be "dusting off."Recommendations will be presented to the chiefs in assembly come August, she said.

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