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About 50 people chanted ‘Bring Our Children Home’ outside the Manitoba Legislature Thursday, protesting the fact that about 90 per cent of kids in the child welfare system in the province are Indigenous. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC) Some are hopeful a new agreement with the federal government will give First Nations more input into Manitoba’s child welfare system — but that hope exists alongside the frustration and exhaustion of Indigenous parents united around one message.

"We can look after our own children. We don’t need the province to tell us how to do that," said Cheryl Dreaver, who works in the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ family advocate office in Winnipeg.

"What we want, essentially, is to bring our children home."

Dreaver and about 50 others chanted that call for reunification between Indigenous children and families Thursday at the Bring Our Children Home protest outside the Manitoba Legislature. Cheryl Dreaver equated Manitoba Child and Family Services’ rates of apprehending Indigenous children with Canada’s residential school system. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC) Dreaver equates the current situation of Indigenous kids in care in Manitoba with the injustices of the residential school system and the Sixties Scoop, an adoption campaign that saw 20,000 Indigenous kids taken from their homes. Most were placed with white families. ‘When it falls onto deaf ears who have an obligation to listen, of course you’re going to have people who feel there’s no other alternative but to protest.’ "It’s a modern-day residential school and it’s awful. Only it’s worse because our children are being taken right from birth. At least in residential school they got to stay with their families until they were five. It’s worse today."

Most recent estimates suggest Manitoba has about 11,000 kids in care, roughly 90 per cent of whom are Indigenous, making it the province with the highest number of children in the system.

About 1,700-kilometres away a few hours earlier, AMC Grand Chief Dumas, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott signed a memorandum of understanding in Ottawa the group says will lead to new "concrete outcomes" for First Nations involved in the Manitoba child welfare system.

"It was a very amazing experience, it was historic," Dumas said over the phone from Ottawa.

"I believe there is the political will to support grassroots people and Indigenous people and the chiefs of Manitoba to truly start changing the child and family issue in a meaningful way."

Bennett said the agreement strengthens partnerships with Manitoba First Nations and supports the federal government’s commitment to a "nation-to-nation dialogue on child and family well-being." Philpott said it’s an important step toward reducing the number of Indigenous kids in care and reunifying families and communities. More accountability

Asked whether the agreement has any teeth and comes with federal resources attached, Dumas said "absolutely" but wouldn’t specify exactly what those resources are.

He wants Manitoba to adopt a model similar to some other provinces, which take federal child welfare transfers and set that money aside for children to claim when they age out of the system. Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas says he’s pleased by a memorandum of understanding he and two federal ministers signed in Ottawa Thursday. (CBC) "There’s no accountability from the provincial system," in Manitoba right now, Dumas said.

"They claim that they have the authority to do all these things. There’s no onus on them to provide information to the federal government, let alone to ourselves, on how our resources are being used.… That’s our children’s money."

Manitoba Families Minister Scottt Fielding wouldn’t say whether his government is open to such a model.

"All ideas are on the table," he said.

Dumas said […]

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