Louis Bull Nation, one of the four nations of Maskwacis, is looking forward to a momentous homecoming after signing a historic agreement with the federal government that enables them to administer jurisdiction over their own child and family services.
On Feb. 1, Chief Desmond Bull signed the bilateral agreement at the Louis Bull Nation administration building, making the nation the first in Alberta, and only the fourth in Canada to sign such an agreement.
“This is an important day for Louis Bull Tribe,” said Chief Desmond Bull, adding it was a long-time coming. “Our children are sacred. This law seeks to bring them home.”
Bull explained the agreement was for two years, but would hopefully lead to a permanent, long-term agreement.
Under the agreement, the federal government will be providing $125 million in funding over two years for startup and ongoing operational costs.
The agreement supports Bill C-92, the “Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.” The act became an official law on June 21, 2019, and came into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
With the act, Indigenous nations could either continue to work with delegated agencies or design and create their own child and family service models to best meet their needs.
Louis Bull Nation created the Asikiw Mostos O’pikinawasiwin (AMO) Society, passing the AMO law on Oct. 8, 2020, making them the first first nation in Treaty 6 to implement its own child and family services law.
“One of the goals of the act is to reduce the over-representation of Indigenous children in care,” said Catherine Lappe, assistant deputy minister for Indigenous Services Canada.
Lappe also noted the importance of bringing the children back to their own communities where they can be around their own culture and families.
“I always think of the fact that children born after your law (was passed) will only know your ways,” she said, adding it will have a positive impact.
AMO law seeks to bring children back to the community who have been taken into care by child and family services. Louis Bull Tribe and the AMO Society are working to transfer all child and family welfare files to AMO and away from the province.
“Our law has clear guidelines for child and family services that provides support for parents and guardians as well as protection and care for our Awasisahk and children,” says AMO on its website.
“Due to the acceptance of the AMO Law, there is no purpose for the Alberta government to work within the reserve. Since Jan. 1, 2020, the Louis Bull Tribe has worked tirelessly to implement the rights of Indigenous Peoples to have jurisdiction over their own child and family laws, and the reaffirmation of the law will be a powerful way to nurture their children and continue on a traditional way of life.”
Louis Bull councillor and AMO board chair Barb Laroque said many community members and leaders have had this vision for a long time, including those who are now passed on: the vision to bring their children home, to be raised with their own history, culture, language and beliefs about faith and medicines, “so they know who they are.”
“I will continue to speak on behalf of children no matter what table I’m at,” said Laroque.
International Chief Dr. Littlechild, a lawyer and former commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was the next to speak.
Littlechild said he was taken into care when he was two weeks old, and taken again when he was six, into a residential school where he remained for 14 years.
He said he couldn’t express his delight enough with the signing of the agreement, and the event was a “cause for celebration.”
“The fundamental core of nationhood is children,” he said.
“Laughter will come back to the community through the children who were taken away, because that laughter is medicine to us,’ said Littlechild.
He recounted a court case that he lost regarding the care of a child. He had asked the court to grant custody to the child’s grandmother, as is their cultural tradition, but as denied, due to a difference in law.
With the signing of this agreement, that is changing.
“Yes, it was a dream, but now that dream is a reality.”
Louis Bull Nation Coun. Wayne Moonias said it was a “momentous occasion” brought about by many prayers, restoring faith.
“Our grandmothers also said the most precious jewel we can wear around of necks are children’s arms,” Moonias said.
He added with this agreement, they can begin to “end the genocide,” and children can “take pride in who they are.”
Moonias said elders, parents and grandparents have obligations the moment a child arrives.
“You must make this place worthy of such a gift,” he said, about children in care returning to the community.
He urged the members present to open their hearts and doors to the children, clean up their yards and renovate their homes.
There are two Delegated First Nation Agencies (DFNA) within Maskwacis: the Kasohkowew Child Wellness Society and Akamihk Child and Family Services Society in Montant First Nation.
While DFNAs are independent contractors and aren’t part of Crown corporations or Children’s Services, they are federally or provincially incorporated legal entities.
There are currently 20 DFNA agreements with 37 of the 48 First Nations in Alberta (alberta.ca).