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Special Chiefs Assembly confers over landmark agreement

Representatives and leaders from across the Nishawbe Aski Nation (NAN) are gathering in Thunder Bay for two days to discuss matters related to the wellbeing of First Nations children, families, and community members - in addition to the final settlement agreement regarding a CHRT case dating back to 2007.

THUNDER BAY — The fight continues in earnest for First Nations children and families.

The Special Chiefs Assembly of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) is meeting in Thunder Bay for two days, May 22 and 23, to discuss social services in NAN communities and the terms of a 20-billion-dollar long-term reform agreement for First Nations child welfare — one of two final settlement agreements.

The meeting, which features presentations from community-led social services organizations and leaders, brings together Chiefs and representatives from across NAN’s traditional territories.

Addressing those in attendance, Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler paid his respects to community members who have recently lost family members and brought the matter at hand into focus.

“This is about our children. It’s about our kids and our communities – and it’s to try and figure out that path forward,” Fiddler said.

He made reference to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) case, which NAN has been involved with since 2016 when NAN intervened to ensure the case would address aspects of the discrimination specific to remote First Nations communities.

The CHRT ultimately ruled that Ottawa had discriminated against First Nations children and families by under-funding on-reserve child welfare services and, subsequently, failed to implement Jordan’s Principle.

The case was initially filed in 2007 by the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

Fiddler said although this case has been at the mercy of the federal judicial system there appears to be an end in sight.

“We’ve been at it for some time now in this colonial court process but we’re at a point now where we are close to coming to a final agreement. I think we can almost see the finish line.

"Before we can cross that finish line, we need to share with you all of this information – what’s in the agreement, what is not in the agreement, and what this means for your community,” he said.

“This agreement is not perfect. We all have our own wish-list . . . not everything is in here, in the agreement. But I can tell you that our team – our negotiators – did their very best to represent the interests of the families and the communities you represent.”

The NAN Special Chiefs Assembly will be the first group privy to the finer details of the final settlement agreement, according to Fiddler.

“We have earned that right – to be the first ones in line – because we’ve invested so much of our time, our energy, our resources to this process. We want (our kids) to feel supported, we want them to be healthy and happy, and we want them to grow up in their own homes, in their own communities,” he said.

With First Nations children in mind, the Special Assembly will also hear from the Choose Life program, which was introduced to communities across NAN territory in 2017 to promote the mental, emotional, and behavioural well-being of Indigenous youth.

Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum addressed attendees and honed in on the importance of the work NAN and the Special Assembly are doing.

“I ask that you reflect and think about our children. Since the invasion of foreign systems to our families, our children were always the target of injustice. We’ve had many policies, laws, regulations that took our children from us – or for us to have the authority to make decisions where our children were concerned.

"The residential school system – that was meant to take our children from us and our power to protect them, to make decisions, and to keep them with us,” she said.

“We took that step to make that application and become intervenors in this particular Canadian Human Rights Tribunal case because you, as NAN leadership, you knew – and took that step (to show) our children are a priority.

"That our children needed to know we care and love them and that we are taking back that authority to make those decisions with them and for them. We have an opportunity to do that now. We have made great progress and we still have a lot of work to do. That is why you being present here is so important and so valuable.”

For details about Choose Life, please see NAN’s website.

More information about Jordan’s Principle can be found here.

If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide or self-harm, call or text 988. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Austin Campbell is a local journal initiative reporter covering stories in the Superior North region.
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