Good Day. We hope that everyone is safe and well. Most have heard about the omnibus bill, Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act (BITSA), recently passed by the Manitoba government. Omnibus means to deal with numerous items all at once and it is passed quickly to avoid debate or discussion. This bill affects off-reserve First Nations children who are in care because it is estimated that 90% of children in care in Manitoba are First Nations (Indigenous).
The federal government issues the Children’s Special Allowance to children under the age of 18 who reside in Canada and are “maintained by an agency.” This means that the child is in the care of an agency. An agency is described as a “federal, provincial or territorial government department, appointed by a province or territory to administer a provincial or territorial law for the protection and care of children, a group foster home or institution; or an institution licensed or otherwise approved by a province or territory to have the custody and care of children” (Source: Government of Canada, children’s special allowances). The provincial government collected this money from 2005 until 2019, it is estimated to be in the area of $338 million dollars. It is money that is meant for children in care. Children and youth who could use as many supports as possible; particularly, if they have remained in the system until they are 18 and agencies are supporting them with transitioning out of care. A lawsuit was launched against the provincial government as a means to return the money to children and youth who hadn’t received, but the passing of this Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act prevents the lawsuit.
The First Nations Family Advocate Office (FNFAO), a Winnipeg-based organization that works to reduce the number of First Nations children in CFS care, was deeply involved in opposing this bill when it came to attention of community. Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and FNFAO placed a teepee at the Manitoba legislative building and held a fast to raise awareness and in resistance of the bill.
There are stories (and legends) that exist in many First Nations that speak to the importance of children; namely, those who may require extra community support(s) for individual reasons. The teachings from these stories still apply today as there are many children and youth who require additional love and support(s). Colonization has had profound socio-economic impacts on First Nations and Indigenous peoples. While there is significant work being done in all First Nations communities to address those impacts, the work is far from over.
Additionally, it is important for the government and society to understand the faces, cultures, and humanity of First Nations peoples. Often times, humans and communities can be and are viewed as distant statistics. “[N]umbers serve to reduce people to statistics” which makes it easier to pass policies and laws that impact them, negatively (source: Neu & Therrien, pp. 29). However, “numbers still account for actions, and those actions have profound effects on human populations” (N & T, pp. 17). In this case, it is children and youth in care who are affected by the Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act (BITSA). These processes need to change.
Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children – Sitting Bull (Lakota)
Miigwetch. Renew and revitalize.
Sources: Government of Canada – Children’s Special Allowances (https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/child-family-benefits/childrens-special-allowances-fact-sheet.html) & Accounting for Genocide: Canada’s Bureaucratic Assault on Aboriginal People by Dean Neu & Richard Therrien (book)