The road back from hell? : First Nations, self-government, and the universal goal of child protection in Canada


University of British Columbia

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Master of Laws - LLM




The Canadian child welfare system has increasingly found itself under attack for its treatment of First Nations children. The charge is made that it imposes a colonial regime on First Nations families which negates the importance of their cultural identity, and devalues their cultural practices and traditions. Self-government is consistently advanced as the only appropriate response. The question this thesis addresses is whether too much faith is placed in self-government, without sufficient protections for children in the communities. The issue of First Nations child welfare is placed within the wider debates over the need for decolonisation in Canada. It is a premise of this thesis that First Nations hold an inherent right to self-government which demands respect for their sovereign authority in core areas such as child welfare. However, self-government is not a panacea for First Nations communities. The legacy of colonialism continues to manifest itself in the socioeconomic problems prevalent on many reserves/These problems pose a direct challenge to self-governing child welfare agencies and to the safety of the children in their care. This raises the dilemma of how to ensure the fundamental rights of First Nations children are effectively protected, whilst also respecting the 'sovereign' jurisdiction of First Nations communities. The attempts of non-native society to impose controls on First Nations governments, principally through the imposition of the Canadian Charter, are rejected on the basis they continue to perpetuate a colonial philosophy. However, adopting a theory of 'rejuvenated universalism,' and on the basis of a dialogue with three native controlled child welfare agencies in British Columbia, it is argued that agreement on fundamental standards of child welfare could be forged across native and non-native cultures. It is suggested these standards should be guaranteed in a Children's Charter binding all governments in Canada. A Children's Charter which has been developed through fully inclusive cross-cultural dialogue, and which consequently reflects the values of all the various cultures, would provide an essential mechanism for the external evaluation and review of child welfare agencies in Canada, whether native or non-native, according to their own freely accepted values and principles.


Indians of North America - Canada - Self-government; Indian children - Canada; Child welfare - Canada

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