From left, Minister of Children, Seniors, and Social Development Lisa Dempster, Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of northern and indigenous affairs, and Innu Nation Grand Chief Anastasia Qupee. (CBC) Officials from Innu Nation and the provincial government say work is moving ahead on a planned inquiry into Innu children’s experience in foster care, but establishing the terms of reference is taking longer than expected.
Innu Nation Grand Chief Anastasia Qupee and N.L. Premier Dwight Ball hoped to have a framework in place by the end of July. Now, Qupee says, they’ll be ready to make an announcement "in the coming days."
"We’ve always said that change needs to happen," Qupee said.
"People want to be given an opportunity to talk about their experiences." Thunderheart Napeu Tshakapesh took his own life in May. (Thunderheart Napeu Tshakapesh/Facebook) Plans for an inquiry into how Innu children from Labrador fare in the foster care system took shape after 16-year-old Thunderheart Tshakapesh died in Natuashish earlier this year.
Tshakapesh spent time in the foster system, as did Kirby Mistenapeo and James Poker , who died in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
Lisa Dempster, Newfoundland and Labrador’s newly-appointed minister for children, seniors and social development, said there is "room for improvement" in the foster care system, and that she expected to be a part of the review process
"As minister, there will be times that I play a role, but [the department of] children, seniors, and social development will not lead that inquiry." Inquiry head to be named
Just who will lead the charge is still not clear.
The memorandum of understanding signed by Innu Nation and the province leaves open many possibilities: a public inquiry or judicial review, for instance. Or, the Child and Youth Advocate could be tasked with the job.
Qupee said more details on the inquiry structure will be released along with the terms of reference.
The federal government has been asked to participate, too, she said.
Labrador’s two Innu communities, Sheshatshiu and Natuashish, are First Nations reserves and work closely with Ottawa in certain foster care situations, like when children need care above and beyond what a typical foster family provides.
"We look forward to that, and I think their involvement is important," Qupee said. Ottawa to play a role
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the federal government will play some sort of role, but exactly what that entails will be determined by the needs of the province and Innu Nation. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett says Ottawa will be involved in the inquiry in whatever way is ‘most helpful.’ (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press) "We will look at that and then work with them to see how we could be the most helpful," Bennett said.
Bennett, who was confronted on Canada Day by Innu leaders demanding action on foster care, said she agrees that children taken into care should be placed with families in their hometowns whenever possible.
"Taking these children out of their communities has had very, very disastrous effects," she said."We are supportive of the work that will end this crisis."
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