Indigenous Success Stories: Inuit

October 31, 2022

First Nations

Manitoba’s first Indigenous child advocate says more work needed to break colonial bonds

Some leaders have high expectations for advocate from Sapotaweyak Cree Nation

Sherry Gott (right) of Sapotaweyak First Nation is Manitoba’s new Advocate for Children and Youth.

NationTalk: There are three things you should know about Manitoba’s new Advocate for Children and Youth.

Sherry Gott is First Nations, has a master’s degree in social work, and knows the Child and Family Services Act inside and out.

“I’ve apprehended children,” she said in an interview after her four-year appointment was announced. “I’ve been one of the bad guys.”

Close to 90 per cent of children in the province’s child welfare and foster care system are Indigenous. Gott says keeping them safe is the Number 1 reason social workers remove them from their homes.

But the practice is reminiscent of the federal government’s assimilationist residential school system, which forcibly removed children from their families.

So Gott understands why Indigenous communities want their own child welfare system. Communities want to rely on “our natural laws [and] our natural systems,” says David Monias, chief of Pihicikamak [Cross Lake] First Nation.

That’s why he views Gott’s hiring as a good move. “In my experience, it makes a big difference having someone Indigenous in a role like that. You don’t have to explain the realities of our communities – don’t have to explain our ceremonies and the kinship ties that we have.

“With her knowledge of our culture, we can understand each other.”

Sherry Gott
Sherry Gott wore a ribbon skirt and held an eagle feather to her swearing-in ceremony at the Manitoba Legislature. Photo courtesy Kelly Gossfeld

Gott, a member of Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, received an award for her contributions to the community in 2011 from the Aboriginal Social Work Society of Manitoba. Her latest role was as a member of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison Unit at Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

She was inspired to become a social worker as a young girl while watching her maternal grandmother interact with new parents in her community. “She was a supporter, an advisor, a midwife,” Gott says. “There was no judgement. “I admired how she was involved with families in a non-confrontational way.”

Gott tried to emulate her grandmother while she worked in the system run by a colonial government.

She was always propelled by the needs of the children, she says, but wasn’t as aware as she is now of the impact on parents, families and communities.

It’s a subject she’ll be researching and likely reporting on as the advocate. Especially when it comes to rural and remote First Nations. “When you’re isolated everything is harder,” she added. “I’ll be sure to visit those communities.”

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs [AMC] has long called for changes to the way non-Indigenous politicians and social workers deal with their children.

Gott was part of the system when it went through devolution – the creation of Indigenous child welfare agencies – as a way to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into decision making.

Gott’s former employer praised her appointment on Facebook.

It was an attempt to decolonize child welfare, but Gott says Indigenous social workers inside Indigenous agencies were still bound by provincial judgements, attitudes and rules. “We were expected to do what had always been done,” she explains. “It was frustrating.”

Chief Derek Nepinak of Pine Creek First Nation says the AMC hired Cora Morgan as its own First Nations Family Advocate because she is not a social worker.

“There’s a very strong core of communities and people that are moving away from an association with provincial legislation more than they are moving towards it,” he says.

Morgan, who is First Nations, did not respond to a request for comment APTN News made through the AMC.

Gott acknowledged the tense and sometimes acrimonious relationship between Indigenous child welfare agencies and their authorities and the provincial system – especially when children fall through the cracks.

Her role now is to analyse and make recommendations on those situations in public reports, she says while pointing to a stack of papers on her desk.

“Many people know me and know I’m a straight talker,” she says. “That won’t change now.”

Read More: 

New report highlights challenges facing youth in Manitoba 

Gott will be watching as the next attempt to Indigenize child welfare occurs through the federal Liberals’ Indigenous child welfare law via Bill C-92.

The “Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families” recognizes Indigenous communities’ inherent jurisdiction over their children.

November 26, 2021

Inuvialuit Family Way of Living Law

Inuvialuit Regional Corporation – Today, as a result of community consultation, the IRC Board passed the first Inuvialuit Law, which will make sure that Inuvialuit children and youth in care, as well as their families, are supported wherever they live, to the benefit of our communities and Inuvialuit culture.
The law, which is called Inuvialuit Qitunrariit Inuuniarnikkun Maligaksat, establishes our inherent jurisdiction over child and family services and has four guiding principles, based on what we heard from Inuvialuit Settlement Region communities over the course of the past year:

  1. To ensure cultural continuity for each Inuvialuit child and youth, which is essential to wellbeing, and which includes serving each child and youth in their home community to the greatest extent possible;
  2. To enhance the supports available to enable Inuvialuit families to thrive, reducing the need for intervention;
  3. To improve information sharing for fully informed service provision, advocacy, and decision-making; and
  4. To grow the exercise of Inuvialuit jurisdiction in child and family services at our own pace, in our own way.
    With this new law, Inuvialuit becomes the first Inuit region to enact its own child wellbeing legislation, an important step in self-determination and a proud achievement for all Inuvialuit.

While all existing child and youth protection laws remain in force for now, as this new legislation is implemented, the new law requires all federal, territorial and provincial governments to meet certain basic standards when providing child and family services to Inuvialuit children, youth, and their families.
Inuvialuit Qitunrariit Inuuniarnikkun Maligaksat, which was named by Elders to represent all dialects and means “Inuvialuit Family Way of Living Law,” is designed to support a gradual transition over several years to full Inuvialuit control of the care of Inuvialuit children and youth. Over time, it will see the creation of future facilities, community staffing and a new dedicated organization to be called Maligaksat, which will advocate for Inuvialuit children and youth wherever they live and serve to fill the gaps in existing services.