REGINA – The Saskatchewan government is taking back responsibility for the care of children from the Saskatoon Tribal Council Child and Family Services Agency.
Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer said the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) has repeatedly refused the ministry access to files for children it serves on-reserve.
Harpauer said that means the government has no idea how many children are being cared for or what kind of care they’re receiving. She said the STC is not submitting monthly reports on children in its care, which is what 16 other First Nations agencies in Saskatchewan already do.
Harpauer said years of trying to negotiate a new deal between the province and the tribal council have reached an impasse and federal funding expired in March.
She said officials plan to go to the Saskatoon Tribal Council office on Wednesday to get the files and, if that doesn’t work, the province will have to go through the courts.
STC Chief Felix Thomas said that the province has failed to negotiate in good faith since 2008, accusing officials of threatening to withold money in an effort to dicate terms to the council.
Thomas said the STC agency is federally accredited and abides by guidelines for care that meet or exceed provincial ones.
He said he believes Tuesday’s move is part of an effort by the province to horn-in on the jurisdiction of band councils.
“They’re getting pushback on the jurisdictional side and they want to enact legislation in the fall, what I believe, on child and family services and jurisdiction on and off-reserve. And it’s something that certainly our chiefs don’t agree with, that they have jurisdiction on-reserve,” he said.
Thomas said the bands don’t trust the provincial child welfare system, citing hundreds of deaths reported over the years.
“We’ve had over 200 kids die within the provincial system. And with the Saskatoon Tribal Council (system), we’ve had none,” he said.
Thomas said he expected the issue to wind up in the courts if no resolution can be negotiated.
Harpauer said the province’s agreements with the STC which deal with caring for kids off-reserve will still stand, as officials have been able to access those files. She said the provincial takeover only applies to on-reserve care and that the province would work with other First Nations agencies to try and avoid unnecessarily moving kids out of their existing foster homes.
-With files from the Canadian Press