May 5, 2016.
Cora Morgan is hopeful that, even though the new Cabinet under the newly-elected Progressive Conservatives does not include a children’s services ministry, the interest shown by the PCs while in opposition to improve services delivered to First Nations children will carry through.
“It’s a little concerning but hopefully there’s more to it than we know and they do have (children) as a priority,” said Morgan, who serves as Manitoba’s First Nation Child Advocate.
On Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister introduced a lean Cabinet of 12, eight of whom are rural MLAs, four are from Winnipeg, and none of whom are from northern Manitoba.
Pallister named Kirkfield Park MLA Scott Fielding as minister of families, which includes children’s services. He lumped Indigenous Affairs into a single ministry with municipal relations under Agassiz MLA Eileen Clarke.
Morgan points out that now-Education Minister Ian Wishart, MLA for Portage la Prairie, who served as children’s services critic, was constantly on the previous NDP government to work with First Nations and fund the recommendations in the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs 2014 document, “Bringing our Children Home”. The report called for “a transition to a First Nations system that is based on the original systems of child rearing, education, and nurturance of individual spirit. Resources must be used in appropriate ways to break the existing cycle to restore spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional health and well‐being.”
“He did that on more than one occasion and it never amounted to anything, so I’m hopeful there’s a spirit of collaboration in addressing the issue,” said Morgan.
She said Manitoba has the highest children apprehension rate in the western world. Manitoba has more than 10,000 kids in the care of Child and Family Services, the vast majority being Indigenous.
She also notes that the Pallister government plans on consulting with First Nations in designing new services to be developed and offered to First Nations children and families. That, says Morgan, is further than First Nations got with the NDP.
“There were multiple attempts to work together …and the former government never had any appetite to engage the First Nations or bring about change that was representative of this “Bringing our Children Home” document,” said Morgan.
While she hasn’t had any formal offer of a get-together to be part of the consultation process, Morgan said during the election campaign she did discuss her concerns with the PCs. She says she’s been told that consultation is a priority and is supposed to “happen quite quickly.”
Although Morgan admits that “the magnitude of the issues could have afforded a ministry dedicated to child welfare alone,” she is willing to give children’s services as part of the family services ministry a chance. But she is not so understanding about having Indigenous relations lumped in with Municipal Affairs.
“I think that the ministry should have been stand apart as it has been in previous years,” she said. She notes that when the Conservatives last formed the government, Indigenous Affairs was a stand-alone ministry.
Without its own ministry, Morgan says that “potentially” Indigenous concerns could get lost.