Current Problems

Child Welfare (1-5)

Assembly of First Nations receives settlement offer to finalize reform of child welfare

July 9, 2024

National chief calls it ‘a fair offer that will benefit generations of children’

National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak gives her opening address at the Assembly of First Nations annual general assembly  in Montreal, Tuesday, July 9, 2024.
National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak gives her opening address at the Assembly of First Nations annual general assembly in Montreal on Tuesday. (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press)

CBC Indigenous: The Assembly of First Nations has a draft settlement offer from the federal government to finalize long-term reform of First Nations child and family services, National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak announced Tuesday at the AFN’s annual general assembly in Montreal.

“While this offer is under settlement privilege, I can tell you today that it is a very significant offer,” said Woodhouse Nepinak. 

She said regional chiefs were given the details Tuesday morning to discuss with chiefs in their caucuses.

“It is a fair offer that will benefit generations of children,” said Woodhouse Nepinak.

“Let’s never lose sight of what this is all about. It’s about our children, about our future. First Nations are in the best position to take care of our children.”

The AFN held a session at the end of the day on Tuesday to discuss long-term reform and compensation, including details of the draft offer, but only chiefs and proxies were allowed to attend. All other assembly attendees were removed from the room.

The offer stems from a 2016 ruling from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that found Canada engaged in wilful and reckless discrimination against First Nations children and families on reserve and in Yukon by failing to provide them with the same level of child and family services provided elsewhere.

In 2019, the tribunal ordered Canada to pay the maximum human rights penalty of $40,000 per child and family member.

In addition to compensation, there was an agreement-in-principle promising an additional $20 billion to reform First Nations child and family services. It is unclear how this offer differs from the agreement-in-principle. 

The other part of the settlement — $23 billion in compensation — was approved last year.

The AFN will host a special assembly focused on child welfare that will take place in Winnipeg Sept. 17-19. Woodhouse Nepinak said Tuesday that the AFN will host regional engagement sessions for consultation so that chiefs can deliberate and vote on the issue at the special assembly.

Cindy Blackstock is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
Cindy Blackstock is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

First Nations Child and Family Caring Society executive director Cindy Blackstock said the agreement shouldn’t have been made in secret. 

“Canada has a duty to consult with First Nations about their children. It ought to be disclosing all this stuff,” Blackstock said.

“I am very concerned about that. These are the the children of different nations throughout this country. These nations have a right to know what is in those agreements; they have a right to review it with experts that they have confidence in and make an informed decision about it.”

What is the duty to consult?

WATCH | The duty to consult, explained: 5 months ago, Duration 2:18

The duty to consult is a legal obligation of the Crown to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate Indigenous Peoples before decisions are made that may infringe on Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Click on the following link to view the video:

Blackstock said evidence from the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy, as well as some projections from the Caring Society on post-majority care estimate the settlement could cost “on the very low end” $51 billion, excluding capital and funding for provinces delivering First Nations child and family services as well as other costs.

“At the higher end of that estimate — what I mean by the higher end is if we were able to do the job properly — it’s about $57 billion plus the capital and plus some of these other costs,” said Blackstock.

Mixed feelings following closed session

David Monias, chief of Pimicikamak Okimawin – Cross Lake Band in Manitoba, said he left the closed session early and feeling upset.

“We’re getting left in the dark,” he said.

“We should be a part of that. We are the rights holders. These are our children, these are our communities, our families… We should be hearing details and be a part of solutions, not just a recipient of information that is coming back.”

Judy Wilson, proxy for Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie, said many questions were being raised.

They include the quick turnaround for chiefs to review information and be prepared to make an informed decision in time for September’s special assembly. Wilson said it’s important to get what information a chief can while understanding the legal parameters of the settlement. 

“It is what it is right now, and we have to make the best of it.”

“Many of the communities and leadership are saying that their communities are in peril… they’re continuing to lose children and they want to be able to make those substantive changes so that the information that is required needs to go to the chiefs so that they can make informed decisions.”


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer, Journalist

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.

With files from Olivia Stefanovich